May 26, 2024

An American Airlines Airbus A319 airplane takes off past the air traffic control tower at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

The FAA is on track to meet its goal to hire 1,800 air traffic controllers this year.
Image: Saul Loeb (Getty Images)

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday that it is increasing the amount of required rest time that air traffic controllers get between shifts, addressing growing concerns over controller fatigue.

The agency will now require controllers — who over see 45,000 flights daily — to take off 10 hours between shifts, and 12 hours off before a midnight shift. The change will go into effect within the next 90 days.

“In my first few months at the helm of the FAA, I toured air traffic control facilities around the country—and heard concerns about schedules that do not always allow controllers to get enough rest,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a statement. “With the safety of our controllers and national airspace always top of mind for FAA, I took this very seriously – and we’re taking action.”

The new guidelines come from recommendations made by an independent panel of experts the agency commissioned in December to assess risks introduced by fatigued staff.

The report acknowledges that risks associated with fatigue have existed for decades. However, “without action, these risks will continue to grow and become more severe over time with individual and system cumulative effects,” the authors warned.

The report was sparked after hundreds of air traffic controllers filed complaints with the agency that a staff shortage has left them overworked. These complaints coincided with a rise in the number of close calls at airports: in fiscal 2023, the FAA logged 23 serious close calls, up from 11 a decade ago.

Whitaker added, that the agency is “beginning to reverse the decades-long shortage of air traffic controllers.” He said the FAA reached its goal to hire 1,500 controllers in 2023 and is on track to hire 1,800 controllers this year.

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