American air traffic controllers are overworked and putting national airspace at risk, according to a secret investigation.
The results of an investigation uncovered by the AP suggest many air traffic controllers suffer from chronic fatigue, which could create serious safety issues. According to the report, the study was completed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), at the suggestion of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and request of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
While the AP did not receive an official copy of the report from the FAA, the news agency claims they received a final draft of the report from December 1, 2011. The study found that 20 percent of the 3,268 controllers surveyed committed “significant errors” in the past year, and over half attributed the error to fatigue.
Additionally, one in three air traffic controllers surveyed told researchers that fatigue was either a “high” or “extreme” safety risk in their opinion. Greater than 60 percent of those surveyed admitted to falling asleep or having an attention lapse while driving to or from work.
“Chronic fatigue may be considered to pose a significant risk to controller alertness, and hence to the safety of the [air traffic control] system,” the study concludes, as reports the AP.
The 270-page report details 17 FAA suggestions to alleviate the problems experienced by air traffic controllers, especially those working midnight shifts, including cutting mandatory six-day schedules. After a number of incidents between 2006 and 2011, the FAA and air traffic controllers’ unions announced many changes aimed to improve air traffic safety, including maintaining two controllers working overnight shifts and nine-hour breaks between shifts.
The FAA refused comment to the AP on the report. When asked, a spokesperson for NASA also refused comment or release of the report, telling the AP that the FAA “own the rights to decide its release.”