FAA, controllers' union reach agreement on guidelines to combat fatigue

Plan comes after a number of reports of controllers falling asleep during overnight shifts.

The Federal Aviation Administration will work with the union representing the nation's air traffic controllers to develop new sleep schedules that incorporate fatigue science, it was announced Friday.

The agreement comes after a number of reports this spring of controllers falling asleep during overnight shifts, but the new guidelines were in the works before then. They were created by a working group established under a 2009 collective bargaining agreement between the FAA and the union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA).

"We are pleased that the efforts of the joint NATCA-FAA fatigue workgroup that produced these science-based recommendations have resulted in an agreement and their implementation into the schedules and work environments of our nation's dedicated and highly professional air traffic controller workforce," NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said in a statement.

Currently, controllers receive a minimum of nine hours of rest between shifts. Many controllers opt to cram as many shifts as possible into the shortest time period possible in order to have long weekends.

In addition to the new sleep schedule principles, which are to be created no later than September 1, 2012, controllers will also be allowed to listen to the radio and read "appropriate" written materials, according to an FAA press release.

Under the agreement, the FAA will develop a way to allow controllers to regain their medical certification if diagnosed with sleep apnea if treatment is completed. Currently, controllers are sidelined if they receive a sleep apnea diagnosis.

A Fatigue Risk Management System for air traffic control operations will be developed by January 2012 that will collect and analyze data associated with work schedules. This is aimed to ensure that the schedules are not at risk for increasing controller fatigue.

"Air traffic controllers have the responsibility to report rested and ready to work so they can safely perform their operational duties," said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt in a statement. "But we also need to make sure we have the right policies in place to reduce the possibility of fatigue in the workplace."