FAA's Controller Scheduling Practices Can Impact Human Fatigue, Controller Performance, and Agency Costs [open pdf - 547KB]
"Scientific research has shown that air traffic controller scheduling practices impact controller performance and aviation safety. Controllers generally work rotating schedules during which the start and stop times vary between day, evening, and night times. Reviews by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and FAA's Fatigue Risk Management (FRM) Work Group have shown that individuals working erratic schedules experience fatigue, which can negatively impact controller performance and safety. In response to a number of incidents of sleeping or unresponsive controllers in 2011, FAA took action to mitigate the impact of fatigue on controller performance by revising its controller scheduling policies. For example, the Agency increased the minimum rest periods between shifts, established a fatigue risk management system, and increased the number of controllers assigned to midnight shifts. In addition, FAA began to allow 'recuperative breaks' on overnight shifts to lessen the risk of fatigue experienced by working controllers. However, facility managers raised concerns about whether the new scheduling policies actually reduce fatigue. We could not determine the extent to which these new policies impact fatigue because FAA does not have metrics to measure the effect of its scheduling practices. In addition, fatigue research, which is still ongoing, may prompt additional revisions to FAA's scheduling practices to mitigate fatigue."
Federal Aviation Administration, Office of Inspector General, Report No. AV-2013-120
U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of the Inspector General: http://www.oig.dot.gov/