The leader of the national air traffic controllers union wants members to be allowed to schedule naps during night shifts.
National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President Paul Rinaldi said the steps taken last week by the Federal Aviation Administration to address fatigue — including adding an extra hour to the time between air traffic controllers' shifts — were a good start. However, he said the changes "barely scratch the surface."
Rinaldi defended the proposal to allow supervised naps against critics who say air traffic controllers are not being paid to sleep on the job.
"There is nothing groundbreaking about these recommendations," Rinaldi said. "They are common sense solutions to a problem NATCA and fatigue experts have consistently raised for years while past Administrations turned a blind eye. The recommendations are based on advice from NASA and the military and in line with international air traffic control best practices. If we are serious about addressing controller fatigue, then every recommendation must be adopted and implemented."
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is one of the leading critics of the nap proposal.
"We're not going to sit by and let that kind of behavior take place in control towers," LaHood said last week in an interview, referring to a controller in Miami who was fired after bringing bedding to work to take a nap.
The incident was one of seven involving air traffic controllers not being responsive to landing airplanes. Last week, a controller in Cleveland was found to be watching movies on a portable DVD player while on the job. The audio of the movie was transmitted to a military plane over the flight tower’s radio system.
Rinaldi just concluded a week-long tour of air traffic control facilities with Randy Babbitt, the head Federal Aviation Administration, during which the pair emphasized the "personal responsibility" of controllers. He said the tour was effective.
"Our members take seriously the personal responsibility each of them has to act appropriately and keep the flying public safe," he said. "I know we will win back the trust and confidence of the flying public."