Air traffic controllers are said to be at higher risk of errors due to work timetables and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should consider better schedules to avoid potential accidents.

Reports suggest that the FAA comes across a number of challenges to recognize air traffic controller staffing requirements, which is needed for a safe and cost-effective services nationally as well as at its 315 facilities.

"Other complications include the uncertainty of air traffic forecasts and the fact that a large percentage of the controllers are eligible to retire, as it can take years to train new controllers.  The committee's recommendations aim to enable controller staffing decisions that are consistent; that are driven by proper science and data analysis; and that will address relationships between ensuring safety, meeting the operational needs of the aviation community, and demonstrating cost-effectiveness," says Amy Pritchett, David S. Lewis Associate Professor of Cognitive Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, who chaired the committee that wrote the report for the National Research Council.

Air traffic controllers play an important role in ensuring a safe airspace. The controllers are responsible for ensuring that aircrafts maintain a safe distance from other aircrafts and terrains efficiently and safely. The FAA is believed to have around 15,000 air traffic controllers, which accounts for around 18 percent of its annual budget.

However, previous reports have indicated that air traffic controllers were found sleeping during their shifts. The latest report suggests that the FAA regulations does not refrain controllers from working hectic schedules. The report highlights a commonly known work schedule amongst air traffic controllers called "rattlers." In this pattern of work timings, the controllers are allowed to compress five day's work in four days. Rattlers is a preferred work schedule for many as it allows them to take an extra day off over the weekend. However, this work shift pattern does not allow adequate rest to the controllers and may cause fatigue.

FAA did try to address the issue with a fatigue management program; however, budget reduction hindered the program's ability to successfully analyze and reduce fatigue concerns.   

The National Research Council report suggests that the FAA should understand the risks of fatigue on air traffic controller and have an active fatigue management program for the controllers.

According to a Philly report, the FAA has responded to the latest report and says that it is introducing limitations to the work shifts and schedules for air traffic controllers.

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