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Air Traffic Controllers Union Wants ‘Controlled Naps’

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USA Today reports that the union representing air traffic controllers will push for “controlled naps,” despite Transportation Department chief Ray LaHood’s insistence that his agency will not pay controllers to sleep on the job.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently investigating multiple incidents of controllers sleeping on the job, as well as one case of a controller watching a DVD while working. Several controllers have been fired, and LaHood recently went on morning TV to assure the public that he and his agency are on top of things. “We believe that these controllers are well-trained. We believe they’re well-rested,” LaHood said on CBS’ Early Show. “But, we will do more. We will do what we have to do. We will not continue the kind of activity where seven controllers have fallen asleep.”

But according to USA Today‘s Alan Levin, the controllers’ union thinks more needs to be done to reduce fatigue. Levin writes that National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Paul Rinaldi “will continue to push for enactment of 12 recommendations to reduce fatigue that it came up with jointly with the FAA. They include monitored naps, better training on how to reduce fatigue and medical testing to ensure that controllers don’t suffer from sleep disorders.”

Rinaldi also pointed out that air travel in the U.S. is as safe as ever.

From the consumer’s perspective, none of this looks good—sleeping air traffic controllers? really?—but it’s difficult for anyone outside the tower to know what is appropriate behavior inside it. Being an air traffic controller, like operating a plane, is a stressful, largely zero-sum game. Controller fatigue is something worth considering and likely addressing, whether through “monitored napping,” like Rinaldi suggests, or perhaps an adjustment to duty periods similar to what the DOT proposed for pilots last year. A tired controller is a dangerous controller.

Readers, do you think controllers should have structured rest periods during their shifts, especially overnight?

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