Last updated: 02:21 PM ET, Mon August 10 2015

AP Uncovers Suppressed Study on Air Traffic Controller Fatigue

Impacting Travel | Rich Thomaselli | August 10, 2015

AP Uncovers Suppressed Study on Air Traffic Controller Fatigue

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The Associated Press news agency has uncovered a report that the government has kept secret for four years, a study that found air traffic controllers’ frenetic work schedule makes them susceptible to chronic fatigue.

That the study came to such a conclusion is not surprising; that the federal government kept it quiet and repeatedly denied the Associated Press’ requests and a Freedom of Information Act filing certainly is.

The version the AP was able to obtain on its own was a draft of the final report dated Dec. 1, 2011.

According to the AP, the study found that nearly 2 in 10 controllers had committed significant errors in the previous year — such as bringing planes too close together — and over half attributed the errors to fatigue. A third of controllers said they perceived fatigue to be a "high" or "extreme" safety risk. Greater than 6 in 10 controllers indicated that in the previous year they had fallen asleep or experienced a lapse of attention while driving to or from midnight shifts, which typically begin about 10 p.m. and end around 6 a.m.

Overall, the AP found in the study that air traffic controllers whose activity was closely monitored by scientists averaged 5.8 hours of sleep per day over the course of a work week. But they averaged only 3.1 hours of sleep before midnight shifts and 5.4 hours before early morning shifts.

The study was composed of a survey of 3,268 controllers about their work schedules and sleep habits, and a field study that monitored the sleep and the mental alertness of more than 200 controllers at 30 air traffic facilities.

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