Are O'Hare Controllers Overworked?

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That's what Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) wants Bobby Sturgell, the acting FAA administrator, to find out. On Wednesday, Durbin said he is calling for an immediate investigation into air traffic controller conditions, including staffing levels and fatigue, at Chicago air traffic facilities. Durbin’s announcement follows last week's runway safety report by the Government Accountability Office, which showed O’Hare International Airport had the second-highest number of near-collisions on its runways of any U.S. airport between 2001 and 2006. The report cited air traffic controller fatigue as a key issue affecting runway safety. “Controllers in the Chicago area are retiring at increasing rates and it is clear that the FAA does not have a plan for the future,” said Durbin. “Now the report has backed up what I've been hearing directly from air traffic controllers -- low staffing levels are contributing to controller fatigue and making our runways less safe. It's time to go into these facilities, start asking tough questions and do everything in our power to make air traffic safer.” FAA spokeswoman Tammy Jones told the Associated Press the agency would welcome an outside review of the controllers' situation.

Joseph Bellino, president of the O'Hare affiliate of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, also welcomed Durbin's request. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know they have not staffed our facilities," he told the AP. "They haven't done anything to improve facilities till recently, with hiring some college students who won't be ready for two years."