The Federal Aviation Administration is introducing new measures to alleviate controller fatigue related to sleep loss and circadian disruption. 

Summary: In response to concerns about air traffic controller fatigue, FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker announced new reforms to improve rest periods. These changes, influenced by an expert panel’s recommendations, include mandatory 10-hour breaks between shifts and 12-hour breaks before midnight shifts. The FAA aims to enhance safety and controller well-being through these measures and by addressing staffing shortages with accelerated hiring and training efforts.

Key Takeaways: 

  • The FAA has introduced new scheduling reforms requiring air traffic controllers to have 10 hours off between shifts and 12 hours off before a midnight shift to ensure they get sufficient rest.
  • An independent panel of scientific fatigue experts was commissioned in December 2023 to assess risks and recommend solutions regarding controller fatigue.
  • The FAA is working to address a long-standing shortage of air traffic controllers by reaching and exceeding hiring goals, with plans to hire 1,800 controllers this year.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced changes to air traffic controller schedules to address concerns about controller fatigue related to sleep loss and circadian disruption and the impact on safety, according to a statement from FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker. 

Last December, the FAA commissioned a panel of fatigue experts to evaluate the risks associated with controller fatigue in its system and provide guidance on how to reduce these risks. The report raised “serious concerns” regarding controller fatigue and off-duty time, according to an FAA memorandum signed by Nick Fuller, executive director of Air Traffic Safety Oversight Service. 

The panel identified 58 opportunities for the FAA and others to consider in their efforts to address fatigue risks within the Air Traffic Organization. 

The panel’s report brought into focus key reforms which we’re implementing immediately to ensure air traffic controllers are getting sufficient rest, while we also work to implement some longer term, systemic changes,” says Whitaker in the statement.

As a first step, according to Whitaker, air traffic controllers will be required to have 10 hours off between shifts and 12 hours off before a midnight shift. Whitaker is directing 

the Air Traffic Safety Oversight Service to ensure the agency is able to ensure compliance, according to his statement. 

“I appreciate the panel’s time and expertise, and we are committed to a sustained effort to address controller fatigue and ensure our airspace is the safest in the world,” says Whitaker in the statement. “These recommendations will significantly aid our efforts, providing a roadmap for our agency.” 

Beyond schedule adjustments, the FAA is working to increase its workforce, which Whitaker says will help lessen demands on the current workforce. Over the past two years, recruitment efforts have begun to alleviate the long-standing shortage of air traffic controllers, according to the statement from Whitaker. He notes that the FAA is on track to hit its goal of hiring 1,800 air traffic controllers this year.  

Photo 200673141 | Air Traffic Controller © Allagreeg |