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FAA’s Controller Scheduling Practices Can Impact Human Fatigue, Controller Performance, and Agency Costs

Required by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012
Project ID: 
AV2013120

The Nation’s air traffic controllers play an important role in maintaining the safety of the National Airspace System. However, in 2011, a series of highly publicized incidents occurred during which air traffic controllers either fell asleep on duty or became unresponsive. These events raised questions about the impact of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) scheduling practices on controller performance. In the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Congress directed our office to review the considerations of safety, controller performance, and cost effectiveness when controller schedules are developed. We found that, due to FAA’s scheduling practices and the nature of air traffic control work, controllers work erratic schedules, which can cause fatigue and negatively impact controller performance and safety. Although FAA has taken action by revising some of its controller scheduling policies, the Agency does not have metrics to determine whether its new policies will reduce controller fatigue. In addition, we found that FAA’s new policies requiring a second overnight controller at 30 facilities cost the Agency approximately $1.9 million per year. However, these costs could be offset by additional measures, such as reducing costs related to its overnight operations. Finally, we found that controllers are working schedules that do not always comply with FAA’s scheduling policies on the minimum amount of time required between shifts. FAA concurred with all four of our recommendations to further improve its controller scheduling practices. However, we are requesting additional information for one recommendation to clarify FAA’s policies regarding recuperative breaks on the midnight shift.

Recommendations

Open

Closed

No. 1 to FAA

Identify the terminal air traffic facilities that do not meet the established minimum criteria for midnight shift operations, and (a) evaluate the safety risks and benefits of reducing their hours of operation, and (b) develop milestones for implementation of the reduction of operating hours at the selected facilities and report the status and justification for each selected facility to the OIG in 180 days.

Closed on 08.29.2013
No. 2 to FAA

Update the CRU-ART automated "flag" to require supervisory approval for controllers to sign on duty before the required time off has expired.

Closed on 07.15.2015
No. 3 to FAA

Expand the required rest audits of 9-hour rest requirement violations to include the 8-hour rest requirements, and continue the audits until the automated "flag" has been implemented nationwide.

Closed on 02.05.2016
No. 4 to FAA

Develop guidance for air traffic facility managers and workforce that specifically defines the criteria for compliance with rest policies, including an emphasis that the rest requirements only apply between operational shifts, and policies governing "recuperative breaks" during the midnight shift.