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  • The Word The FAA Will Not Say
    Posted by Andrew Compart 7:35 PM on Jul 05, 2011

    As I wrote in this Aviation Daily, subscriber-only story, the FAA on Friday announced an agreement with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to better address fatigue issues, and the deal leaves open the option for controllers to nap on a work break. The discussions and deal were spurred by recent incidents in which the lone controller on an overnight shift fell asleep.

    After the first highly publicized incident, some articles pointed out that controllers in many European countries have the option to take naps on late shifts--and some fatigue experts believe it is a good idea. The FAA and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, however, had been adamant that napping was not an acceptable option. Interviewed in April by Chris Wallace for Fox News Sunday, LaHood declared, after Wallace noted that some other countries let controllers take naps during breaks:
    "On my watch, controllers will not be paid to take naps, Chris. We're not going to allow that."

    Perhaps that context explains why the FAA is so loath to utter the word "nap" now. As I wrote, the agreement does not address napping specifically, and it does emphasize the ban on sleep "during any period duties are assigned." But it also says that controllers should have break periods "away from their assigned duties" to recuperate, and during those breaks they can "attend to personal needs, rejuvenate their mental acuity, etc."

    That sure sounds like napping is an option, but when I pressed an FAA spokeswoman on the issue, the FAA danced around it. She noted that napping is not specifically addressed, but otherwise kept referring me back to the wording of the agreement. I could not get a concrete answer on what the acceptable ways are for controllers to "rejuvenate their mental acuity," instead told that it means what it says. Nor did I get a response as to what would happen if a controller decided to take a nap during his or her break, or whether a supervisor was free to allow the controller to take a nap if he or she asked for permission.

    This afternoon I talked to Trish Gilbert, the executive vice president for NATCA, who confirmed for me that the agreement allows for napping as an option. The only requirement, she noted, is that controllers have to be available for recall at all times and come back from their breaks fit for duty.

    Controllers typically get breaks ranging from 20 to 40 minutes during their normal-traffic daytime or evening shifts, she says. But it can be a bit longer during overnight shifts (and can be as short as 10 to 15 minutes when demand for their services is high). Controllers usually self-police what they do on their breaks, unless they have had issues in the past, although a controller does need to notify his or her supervisor if he or she is going to leave the premises during the break, she adds.

    "Rejuvenate their mental acuity" does leave a lot of options, Gilbert says. For example, that could entail exercise or drinking coffee or eating or "resting their eyes." "It does not preclude napping," she adds.







    Tags: tw99, FAA, controllers, napping

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