Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Randy Babbitt announced changes to air traffic controller scheduling practices that will allow controllers more time for rest between shifts. Changes include an extra hour between shifts and a greater availability of managers during late night and early morning shifts. The new rules would also prohibit air traffic controllers from switching shifts without the mandatory 9-hour rest period.
Michael Scullin, a doctoral candidate at Washington University’s Department of Psychology in St Louis, recognizes the important role that proper sleep plays in a cognitively demanding job, such as that of an air traffic controller. "One of the things we know about sleep deprivation is that it affects your ability to use your cognitive resources in an efficient manner," said Scullin.
"Air traffic controllers have a lot of prospective memory demands; they may be working on the evaluation of locations of planes and at the same time have to re-route an airplane. This is very cognitively demanding," said Scullin who also stresses the importance of proper sleep.
In addition to changes in scheduling practices, the FAA is instituting a Call to Action to reinforce the need for all air traffic personnel to adhere to the highest professional standards. The Call to Action effort will include the development of a fatigue education program to teach controllers the risks of fatigue and how to avoid it.