FAA on Fatigue: Still No Naps
You have to wonder what it's going to take to drag the FAA into the 21st century with regard to what might best be called fatigue management. Last week, it announced a new agreement with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to address fatigue issue on all shifts, but especially the mid-shift, between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The FAA now says if controllers are too tired to work, they can use annual leave or sick days and skip the shift, they can listen to commercial radio or read to stay awake but—major oversight here—they can't take catnaps even when on break. In a way, this a tantamount to denying the weight of 250,000 years of evolution for the sake of…well, I'm not sure. It also flies in the face of virtually all contemporary research on fatigue, which reveals that short naps are the best way to restore alertness for people whose circadian rhythm has been disrupted by a wholly unnatural night shift.
Commenting on the FAA's announcement Friday, former NTSB member John Goglia, who's on the FAA's fatigue advisory committee, said the FAA policy lags far behind accepted understanding of fatigue causes and solutions. Ironically, he says, the FAA's own studies confirm other research on the subject and the agency possesses more than enough data to support an enlightened approach to mid-shift fatigue. Yet it refuses to go there.
Why? Ostensibly, it's politics, although if there's some other over arching reason, the FAA hasn't said nor has anyone offered intelligent speculation. The outside-looking-in view assumes that SecDOT Ray LaHood doesn't want to find himself in front a congressional sub-committee trying to answer why he's allowing highly paid government employees to sleep on the job. Or maybe he's really standing on principle here. Maybe he really believes that it's just wrong and a mark against professionalism to allow controllers a snooze break. If that's the case, he's utterly oblivious to overwhelming research on the topic, some done by his own agency. If politics are really driving it, it's just another example of the broken political system in this country slowly driving us toward ruin.
Either way, the result will be the same: More stories about sleeping controllers, more firings and maybe a hotter political potato than if the agency had just authorized naps in the first place.