Air Traffic Controllers Union Speaks Out, LaHood Still Unhappy

Posted Apr 25th 2011 08:20 AMUpdated Apr 25th 2011 11:10 AM



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The union which represents air traffic controllers is once again at odds with transportation officials: Air traffic controllers will continue to push for a controlled nap schedule in order to reduce fatigue despite significant resistance from officials, USA Today reports.

Despite a slew of bad publicity in recent weeks--from sleeping air traffic controllers to a near miss with the First Lady's plane--Paul Rinaldi, the president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, defended the air traffic system and those who work it.

In a statement, Rinaldi said "It is safe to fly. It has never been safer to fly."

The union will push for 12 ways to reduce fatigue, including monitored naps, anti-fatigue training and medical testing to make sure controllers don't have sleep disorders.

It's not all about fatigue in the air traffic controllers room, however: A controller was suspended earlier this month for watching "The Cleaner," a 2007 Samuel L. Jackson movie, while he worked the midnight shift.

Last week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood went on PBS's "News Hour" to condemn the controllers and ensure a nervous public that the numerous incidents were nothing to fear.

Filed Under: Air Travel, News

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Neal J. King

I've never been a pilot or a controller, but I have sometimes had very irregular schedules. My experience is that when you're tired and out-of-sync, you can easily drift off without noticing it. You can zone out, being apparently awake but accomplishing absolutely nothing. Not the state of mind I'd want someone to be in, who was supposed to be responsible for my safety!

If the folks are being paid for the break periods anyway, I see absolutely no problem if they would like to snack, play checkers, or nap. A "power nap" might be just the thing to allow them to be alert during the next session.

April 26 2011 at 3:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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April 25 2011 at 11:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't think we are asking for a designated nap time but just the option to nap on our break that we already get. As long as we are back at work and alert when we are supposed to be what does it matter if I'm reading, eating, walking the track or taking 20 minute power nap during that time? I know if I was flying I would rather the controller that just had the power nap and is alert vs. The controller who can barely stay awake to provide the intense concentration needed to run a busy sector. But I guess thats just me. We are a group of hard working professionals who are getting a bad name by a very small percentage.

April 25 2011 at 9:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Richard Poillucci

Lets see if I understand this correctly, I'm supposed to feel sympathy for a group who crossed a picket line to get that job. Let them rot.

April 25 2011 at 5:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Richard Poillucci's comment

I was a controller in the military for 4 years and have been a controller with the FAA for 9 years and was only 2 when the strike happened. I didn't cross a picket line and most of those who did are retired or soon to be. Most of us are in the "What strike?" generation.

April 25 2011 at 8:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

naps... now there's a union reg I can get behind! fight the power!

April 25 2011 at 11:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nancy Hamilton

There has been LOTS of research on the cognitive deficits associated with total and partial sleep deprivation. The most consistent finding is that people who are even partially sleep deprived have attentional lapses -even microsleeps while performing repetitive, boring tasks. I cannot think of a more boring repetitive task than air traffic control. Take home message, give these people all the naps they want. This is basic physiology people!

April 25 2011 at 11:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Im 1000% for unions. If were are going to have human air traffic controllers they need naps, and everything that is logical for people who have important jobs where they have intense hyper concentrated attention and little room for error.

That said, air traffic control should be automated. There are 3 global GPS systems - if each flying vehicle was connected to all three - we could have a triple redundant system that makes sure paths dont overlap. We cannot have flying cars until the air traffic control systems are modernized. over crowded under funded highways have an average speed of 30MPH and the speed is falling. we need to move to a flying car systems asap. - and for that we need automated air traffic control.

April 25 2011 at 11:00 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to encrypted's comment
Sam Ellens

"we need to move to a flying car systems asap"

hah! flying cars have been 20 years away for 50 years.

April 25 2011 at 11:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Unions the proverbial millstone around the neck of america

April 25 2011 at 9:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This just goes to show how arrogant unions have become,Here's an idea how about the controllers nap BEFORE they come to work.If they can't stay awake at work fire them and hire someone that can.
Unions have become the one of the largest thorns in the side of america,They have outlived their usefulness.

April 25 2011 at 9:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to John's comment
Nancy Hamilton

This is about basic biology. Even partially sleep deprived people will "micro-sleep" while performing mundane and boring tasks. If the air-traffic controller watching my plane had insomnia last night, you are damn right that I want that person to get a nap! I want him or her fresh as a daisy so that I don't ram into another plane. This is NOT about coddling people or extravagance, it is about understanding how the brain works, how much sleep we actually need, and knowing that there are just some corners that you cannot cut.

April 25 2011 at 11:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How little you know sir!
It is true that 7 controllers recently fell asleep. They should be held responsible for their actions. That said, there are around 27000 people employed as controllers. That is a small fraction of less than one percent, so let's first off quit acting like they are all a bunch of "union thugs" as I read on one message board.
Do you know that during the daytime hours thee are more than 5000 commercial flights in the US skies at any given moment?
Add to that the number of small private planes up there at the same time, and it gets pretty crowded. Do you know that even though the pilot of an airliner is the one that does the flying of the aircraft that every move they make from the moment they back out of the gate until they pull into the destination gate is managed by a controller?
These guys manage hundreds of thousands of flights a month and do it pretty damned safely.
I am a pilot and when I hear some of the whacko communications coming from mostly private pilots, I have to commend these guys for dealing with it all.
If you don't know what you are talking about, it is best you say nothing at all.
ATC has the job of helping pilots and keeping the skies safe. Keeping aircraft from bumping into each other.
I know when I am talking to one of them, I wouldn't mind a bit if they had been allowed to have a little nap during their shift.

April 25 2011 at 2:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jpohlsc's comment

Thank You!

April 25 2011 at 8:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
Frank Kush

I am a retired air traffic controller.

Do NOT permit them to nap! It shall be abused!

Susan Z.: I worked horrific schedules for 30 years, and did not nap. I also never had a "deal". I knew about the various rotations before I chose to enter this field of employment. You get paid "the big bucks" because you are expected to be attentive and alert throughout the duration of your shift.

NATCA is not interested in safety. They are interested in getting as many 'goodies' for their members as is possible. Period.

April 25 2011 at 9:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Frank Kush's comment

Where exactly did you work Frank

April 25 2011 at 1:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply