FAA Announces Revised Air Traffic Controller Rest Guidelines


On Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced its plans to revise air traffic controller rest guidelines, mandating a minimum of 10 hours off between shifts (previously 9 hours) and 12 hours off before midnight shifts.  

The change comes in response to a new report released by a panel of safety experts detailing the impact of fatigue on air traffic controllers and safety. FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker formed the panel last year in response to several near misses, which have garnered widespread media attention.

Whitaker issued the new rest rules in an April 19 memo to FAA leadership, noting that the changes would be implemented in the next 90 days.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy applauded the FAA’s decision saying, “The safety of our skies depends on air traffic controllers who are well-trained and well-rested. This move by the FAA to give overworked and overscheduled air traffic controllers proper rest between shifts is the right thing to do.”

In her remarks, she noted the NTSB’s longstanding concern over controller fatigue, citing incidents like the 2006 Comair flight 5191 crash linked to overworked controllers.

However, the change has drawn backlash from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), which expressed disappointment that the FAA did not collaborate with the group ahead of its decision. NATCA says it is concerned that implementing the new rules right away could create staffing gaps in air traffic facilities, potentially impacting National Airspace System capacity. Mandating overtime to cover these gaps would only increase fatigue, rendering the new policy ineffective, according to NATCA.

Amelia Walsh
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.


  1. Hmmm. As a former shift worker, the 12-hour time off prior to a midnight shift seems a bit short.

    According to online sources, a controller can work up to ten hours. So the controller can work from 2 AM to Noon, go home, and report again for work at midnight the same night. He or she actually gets more rest BETWEEN midnight shifts….

  2. This is a nice start, but disappointed they didn’t collaborate with natca for implementation. Agree with natca, with a shortage of controllers , and with attrition is getting worse, this will cause even more overtime to fill in the gaps.

    • You dont really understand the process clearly. The collaboration is required FOR the implementation, not before. Management reserves the right to formulate working hours.

  3. 10 hours between shifts???? That is outrageous!! At least 16 hours between shifts is more like it. And waiting 90 days to implement the change from 9 to 10 hours???? C’mon. Functionally, that is nothing!

    • To be fair, they can’t just change everyone’s schedule tomorrow. Shifts have to be planned in advance to make sure that sufficient controllers are on duty, and then people have to be assigned to those shifts. It’s normal to plan schedules more than a month in advance.
      My wife gets her schedule from her hospital six months in advance.

  4. Swingshits need to be eliminated! The sleep/wake cycle cannot be reset in a day. Supposed smarties say it takes 1 day per hour of change to reset. This is probably correct. Keep workers on a fixed schedule for at least 4 to7 days. Pay big time premium for work outside waking hours and reassess in half a year.

  5. I was an en route controller for 26 years. A Post-strike hire in 1988, I saw the ’90’s when staffing was “normal” (meaning years without overtime or extended shifts) and then the 2000’s when it was obvious that there were going to be some serious workforce issues. The FAA, IMO, thought that newer technology would allow them to do more with less. In a way, that worked (RVSM, URET, DSR, ERIDS, upgraded comm equipment, procedural changes, ADS-B, DataComm/CPDLC). I retired in 2014 because I could see the writing on the wall, and didn’t want to work the mandatory overtime and thin staffing. Now I fly for the airlines.
    The standard controller schedule was a 2-2-1: two evening shifts, two day shifts and a mid shift. You have two days off, say, Sat/Sun. Monday: 3p-11p, Tuesday: 2p-19p, Wednesday: 7a-3p, Thursday: 5:30a-1:30p, Thursday: 10:30p-5:30a Friday morning. There were at least a half dozen times during my career that “studies show…” that we had a backwards schedule, but it’s the one that NATCA approved to have a compressed work week and a “longer” weekend.
    Any talk of, say, a two days on, a day off, two days on and two days off was shot down, because that also would have meant a 32-36 hour week (not allowed per OPM), starting day shifts and ending with evening shifts minimizing the weekend. Plus, the staffing didn’t exist for that kind of schedule. One of the areas in the Center tried having bid lines of mid shifts only, and it didn’t last because there isn’t enough traffic on mids to keep the skills sharp.
    Sure, we tried all sorts of schedule shenanigans…we had “crazy crews” that worked the same shift each day to try and improve coverage. They were 10a-6p, or 12p-8p, etc., to try and cover the busy periods.
    In the early ’90’s, my area had 65 controllers. I asked a friend still working how many they bid for this year, and they say, “28”. Yes, they are doing more with less, but with ±40 shifts of OT each year per controller. And, there’s a percentage of controllers who don’t want to see better staffing because the OT windfall would go away. I saw that when I got hired and they were throttling back mandatory OT after the strike.
    This is just scratching the surface. I haven’t even talked about the toxic environment of FAA management, lowering standards (after retiring from the boards, I worked in the training department as a contractor. Yes, some trainees show up thinking scoring 72 on a test is an over achievement).
    QOL matters–I see that flying for the airlines, I saw it when I worked traffic. Everything is a trade off, safety is not exempt from that. NATCA has its priorities which may or may not aligned with the workforce. A change in working conditions has to be negotiated, by contract, that NATCA/FAA have agreed to, although FAA may try and use the “We’re the senior partner in this arrangement, and this is what we’re going to do. It’ll be interesting to hear from my still-working friends how it all works out.

    • Thanks David. I’ve known rather a few controllers over the years and the story is always the same. Unfortunately, very few pilots have any idea about what life is like in ATC, and I have to wonder how many actually know what the strike was about or are even aware that there was one.
      The evolution of fatigue and caliber of new folks has been paralleled on the airline side as well. Different sectors have different issues, but having done a lot of long haul, I can attest to the damage that rotating shifts does. The ‘work hard, play hard’ concept is great when you are young, and management is happy to capitalize on that, but ultimately it will suck the life out of you and errors ensue.
      I suspect that the vast majority of folks reading this don’t understand that the recent pilot shortage, the first actual, no kidding, real shortage since the ’70’s, was over QOL (Quality of Life). When all the pilots laid off during covid got to wake up in their own beds for more than a couple days in a row, get reacquainted with their spouses, watch their kids grow, and develop alternate sources of income, they decided they enjoyed life better that way than they did flying the line. And then the carriers were astounded when folks said ‘no thanks’ to the recall.

    • A reverse rattler would reduce the FAA’s ability to assign overtime. Also, the day shift before a mid shift can’t start before 5:30am. Also, the FAA screwing with schedules this way outside of the RDO/leave bidding cycle will definitely make worse the already massive retention problem the FAA has. The FAA needs to dramatically improve hiring numbers and working conditions or the number of certified controllers will not improve.

  6. The NTSB chair’s remarks “noted the NTSB’s longstanding concern over controller fatigue, citing incidents like the 2006 Comair flight 5191 crash linked to overworked controllers.” The NTSB report on that flight clearly labeled the cause as pilot error. The only controller related issue was the presence of only one rather than two controllers on duty for the overnight shift. It had nothing to do with controller fatigue.

  7. Take my money and put it on…..implementation at the start of next year with the new guidelines in place for negotiating scheduled the end of this year. NATCA hates this, because NATCA built/made the rattler…fact.

  8. Hmmm,
    In the press release above, apr 19 memo from Mr Whitiaker, He states the new rest rules to be implemented in the next 90 days.
    Did i miss something?
    And yes faa mgmt has the right to formulate working hours, colab w natca from the start would be a good gesture, although we dont know behind the scenes what talk was discussed, maybe even resistance from the union.

    Giving good thoughts to all involved, for more hiring, good quality trainees, funding from congress, to the controllers in the trenches, and to faa mgmt to make the right decisions.