NATCA: Understaffing Is Widespread

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"It isn't just about one-person midnight shifts and airports like LEX," Ruth Marlin, executive vice president for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), told The Eagle Tribune. "The FAA is short-staffed at O'Hare, Atlanta and Dallas towers. If you don't have enough people, you either can't provide the service or can't maintain the safety margin." FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said last week at a news conference in Louisville, Ky., that staffing is not a problem. "Overall, across the country, we do not have a shortage of air-traffic controllers," Blakey said. Dr. Charles Czeisler, professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, told The Eagle Tribune that the sleep-deprived schedule kept by the lone Lexington controller could cause attention lapses and cut reaction time. Czeisler added that sleep deprivation can cause impairment comparable to being legally drunk. The controller at Lexington had worked 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, taken a nine-hour break and then returned to work at 11:30 p.m. after two hours of sleep, according to the NTSB. "That is a bad schedule from a human-performance point of view," Gregory Belenky, director of the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University, told USA Today. The FAA has said the lone controller didn't fail to do anything he should have done, and having a second controller on duty might not have made any difference.