Wednesday, April 11, 2007

NTSB: Air controller fatigue contributed to 4 mishaps

It's about sweet time someone thinks it's a good idea to encourage more rest to increase alertness for air traffic controllers (ATC). The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) thinks so and sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) following an investigation of the crash of Comair flight 5191 in Lexington, KY August 27 after the plane had been cleared for take off by an ATC working alone in the control tower while on his second shift in 24 hours.

In 2002, the FAA distributed self-study materials addressing shift work and fatigue to all air traffic control specialists (1), but perhaps structured naps and better schedules for ATCs as well as pilots would make sense. Common sense if you ask me. (If you dare, remind me to tell you sometime about the interview I did with a pilot in an airport restaurant. I asked him if there were any mechanisms in place for him to rest before a flight should he feel too sleepy to fly a plane, for whatever HUMAN reason... I warn you, this one will bother you if you fly).

When will society ever embrace that humans are not machines? I mean, seriously, what would be the downside of installing some of those nap pods in airports in pilot lounges or in ATC towers for scheduled rest periods? Ok, I'll get off the soapbox now.

Highlights of the NTSB/ FAA story released yesterday include:

Click here for photo of investigators studying the runway at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Ky on August 28, the day after a Comair jet crashed just after takeoff.


1. P.S. Della Rocco and T.E. Nesthus, "Shift Work and Air Traffic Control: Transitioning Research Results to the Workforce." In B. Kirwan, M.D. Rodgers, and Dirk Schaefer (Eds.), Human Factors Impacts In Air Traffic Management. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate (2005).
Be well, Sleep well,

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