AVmail: April 25, 2011
Letter of the Week: Night Shift Is Too Big a Shift
I remember hearing stories of the First World War and the fighting in the trenches and how French officers would tell their troops that if they were caught sleeping they would be shot. It meant nothing to them that the men involved had been awake for days.
The impetus of a threat is limited to the ability of a person to overcome nature. You will probably never hear of a controller falling asleep during daylight hours.
I have worked night shift in a hospital for most of 30 years. Regardless of the amount of sleep obtained during the day, the quality is not the same as what is gained by a good night's sleep. I also ran the sleep lab in the hospital where I work, where I discovered that there are many physiological aspects of sleep disorders, including imposed sleep disorders (like night shift) that the average laymen are unaware of. I have also been in the air traffic control facility in Palmdale, California, and the room where the controllers operate is always dark. Just try sitting in a dark room doing a repetitive task and see how difficult it is to stay awake. In my work environment, I find it necessary to stay on my feet and walk from one area of the hospital to another. I stay awake with no problem, but sit me down at a computer to attend to charting, and I have started nodding off.
It is a very austere measure, resorting to firing someone for sleeping under these conditions. This is typical of the knee-jerk reaction our government is prone to have in order to give the appearance of doing something about a problem. Unless the individual has obtained a pillow of some sort or left his position at the control panel (i.e., showing intent to neglect one's duties by sleeping on the job), they should not be fired. There also may be consideration as to whether the controller has made a habit of sleeping.
Providing adequate and appropriate breaks (which would include a nap) could be a solution, but if I were to nap at work I would only wake feeling stupefied for the rest of the night. Caffeine is a terrible answer to the problem in that it only borrows energy from the body's reserves and renders the consumer unable to obtain quality sleep when it is available.
In essence, this is a problem as old as there has been need of having someone assume a responsibility all night, and it will not go away.
Sleep deprivation is used as torture. Believe me: That is exactly what night shift is.
I quote from the Miami controller story: "There were 12 controllers and two supervisors on duty at the time. Another controller noticed the sleeping controller and turned him in."
What kind of team relationship do those Miami controllers have? Why didn't the one who noticed the guy sleeping just wake him up?
Regarding Dudley Johnston's response to your question: He has obviously missed the big picture. This isn't about unions and the federal government. This is about safety in flight and smart staffing practices. Twenty-seven new controllers aren't just going to magically be hired that will cost the country more money. They will come from the current crop of controllers. Shifts will be changed so that there are two [controllers] on staff during the midnight shift. Mr. Johnston needs to take his political posturing somewhere else, as it had no place in this particular case.
First Lady Fiasco
Paul Bertorelli is spot-on in analyzing the fiasco involving the First Lady. I was once qualified on the 737 on all models through the -300. I am retired now, and I understand the wing tip vortices that can make your cockpit life exciting if vectored in too close to a "heavy." As you have expertly pointed out, except for a few aviation experts and a very few savvy reporters that know the problem, most stories were blown way out of proportion due to the five-mile requirement.
In my 50 years of flying Air Force and commercial heavies, I have only once gotten sandwiched behind a 747 requiring a go-around in a 737, which was absolutely necessary. However, I was sequenced in betweeen two aircraft that were a lot closer than three miles, and the wind was calm.
No detail data on the wind condition was discussed. A crosswind will push the vortices away and make the situation less critical. I appreciate Bertorelli's personal and professional in-depth balanced reporting on the matter.
Rain 'n Pain
Having read through the various opinions on the 2011 Sun 'n Fun (or was it Rain 'n Pain?) disaster, I'd like to share my views — having traveled (commercially) over the pond from London, England.
It has to be accepted we have no control over the weather. Therefore, it was mighty unfortunate that so much rain fell in such a short time on hardened ground, with the subsequent mudfest which followed. I visited on Tuesday and Wednesday and noted that the number of visiting aircraft was considerably less than expected, I guess due to the weather system which passed on Monday. Likewise, the usual crowds who turn up to visit such shows seemed less.
It seemed that the tornado which wreaked havoc and the publicity of the destruction were the reason so many folk turned up on Friday! Subsequently, the traffic backed up. Had the organizers been truthful about the state of the car park and chosen to close access by road for that day, maybe the car parks would have been in a better state on the Saturday and Sunday.
What really annoyed me on Friday was the total lack of acknowledgement from the organizers that there was a problem with the car parks. Instead, they blindly broadcast on the AM radio station that all was well when, in fact, it wasn't.
I appreciate that they can only report on what they see. So maybe a trip outside the perimeter fence would have given them a more accurate view on what was really happening!
I spoke to a sherriff who was "directing" traffic who said that they were told things weren't open, and they had no further information on [whether] (or if) it was likely to be opened, either. I decided that after for queueing for two hours that it was clearly evident that the chances of me getting in were only going to be delayed further, if I could get there at all. I also considered that if I got in whether I'd be able to get out at the end of the day. So I turned tail and headed off elsewhere.
It was a great shame, really, as I was unable to visit on Saturday or Sunday — so maybe next year. If the SnF organizers are trying to work out why the attendance figures are down, I suggest you look at the format. Scrap the "air show" during the week and leave that for your weekend visitors. Generally, the Tuesday-to-Friday visitor is more interested in general aviation rather than aerial entertainment.
Government by Inches
I recently flew commercially to Maine to ferry a PA22 to Florida. While passing through the TSA station, my bag was searched, and the tools I was carrying for the ferry were examined.
After the TSA person examined and measured each item, I was advised that they were longer than the allowed seven inches. Guess I will have to grind and saw the handles to remove the offending 1/2" to 3/4" overage. I explained that I was a pilot and mechanic, and his response was that I should have known better. I guess that a seven-inch hammer will do less damage than an eight- or 10-inch version.
Who makes these rules?
Here's a safety issue: ATC should be prohibited (except in an emergency) from changing a runway assignment once an aircraft is within a certain distance from the airport, as it doesn't allow sufficient time for the crew to set up for FMSs, radios, airspeed and altimeter bugs, etc. and properly brief the new approach. It also requires a lot of "head down" time to accomplish all this when in a congested area, where you should be "head up," scanning for traffic.
Please do not provide any publicity for the hare-brained schemes where kids attempt various aviation "stunts" in order to establish some kind of record.
In Support of Inhofe
Why are you taking such a caustic approach to Mr. Inhofe? He is a great guy and has been involved in aviation for years. Rather than vilify a fellow aviation enthusiast, you should be glad he was given a bit of the spirit of the law instead of the "hammer." Hopefully he will continue to be in our corner when it comes to aviation. Or is this just a partisan "cheap shot"? If the attacks continue, I will remove myself from your "forum" and ask the rest of my experimental friends to do the same.