ATC Snooze Breaks Aren't Likely

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If NATCA, the controller's union, was entertaining the slightest notion that the FAA would approve its members reporting for midshifts with jammies and blankets in tow, I'd say that idea is probably a dead letter by now. Last week, Rep. John Mica, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, told Reuters that he believes NATCA is too powerful and, in keeping with a wider trend of confronting public workers and unions, he wants provisions to make it easier to fire controllers who make mistakes. He doesn't sound like a man who's in the mood to say okay to sleep breaks for drowsy tower operators. Further, SecDot Ray LaHood won't even discuss the subject.

Case closed, it looks like. This is too bad because now the FAA is faced with spending more money to have two tired controllers on duty or perhaps trying to adjust schedules to give controllers more rest between shifts. I actually think the sleep break idea is a good one, but it's unsalable in the current political climate. So we have yet another example of politics rather practicality driving procedures and safety.

Not that the controller workforce has necessarily distinguished itself in presenting a professional front. Last week also brought a brief report from the NTSB offering details on the incident in Jacksonville, in which a supe and TRACON controller tried to—and maybe did—resolve a NORDO incident by vectoring a Southwest 737 into close contact with a Cirrus. Real close, it turns out. DOT's LaHood also announced that the controller or supe involved was fired.

The NTSB's analysis indicated a separation of .1 of a mile and vertical of 100 feet, which is essentially zero for vertical. When I read that, I thought the NSTB has misstated it, meaning 1000 feet vertical. Nope, said the spokesman, it was 100. Just for reference, .1 mile is 600 feet or about five wingspans of a 737. In the early news reports, 1.2 miles lateral was reported. One report said 1000 feet of vertical, which would have obviated the separation bust. The NTSB also pointed out that neither the ATC nor the Southwest crew went through the formality of declaring visual separation. So technically, it sounds like sort of a radar-vectored, TCAS-assisted mutual pilot deviation and operational error.

Just for the heck of it, I circulated the NTSB's findings among my informal board of retired and current controllers. I asked them for a verdict on the controller's judgment. The general thinking seems to be it was idiotic and that seems to reflect at least vein of sentiment in many ATC facilities.

"All that said, at least four seasoned aviation professionals (the controller, his supervisor that actually worked the intercept, and the two airline pilots) all apparently thought this was a good idea. I'd be real curious to know what they thought they were going to achieve," said one of my correspondents. He pointed out if they were trying to determine pilot incapacitation or something else observable, there are better choices—like a military intercept. As I said previously, there was just no obvious quid for this pro quo.

And what of the pilots? If you were asked to do this, would you (a) do it, and (b), how close would you get? I have flown passengers for hire and if I was asked to help out in this situation, I'll freely admit that I probably would have, although I'm not sure I would now. Although the risk is small, it's still real and I just don't like the idea of doing that with 130 paying passengers aboard. The standard of care should be better than that. This is not the same as an airliner being vectored to spot a crash on the ground or something similar. Here, ATC encouraged an intercept with no clue as to how close the crew would actually get. To me, 600 feet is just too close, given the payback of maybe resolving a NORDO.

There was no indication if the Southwest pilots face anything other than suspension of flight duties. I haven't been able to find out if any enforcement action is contemplated. I don't think they should, frankly. But nor are they heroes, in my book. As for the controller and supe, judgments like these hardly help the cause of ATC professionalism.

Comments (38)

I'm a pilot, not a controller. Frankly, I'd blame the pilots for this stupid stunt rather than the controllers. While a controller might not realize what's involved in an intercept like this, the pilots should surely realize it's likely beyond the capabilities of your average air transport and politely declined. Who's flying that thing, anyway; them or ATC?

Posted by: Ed Fix | May 2, 2011 4:52 AM    Report this comment

I agree with Ed. Firing the controller/supervisor leaves the impression with the less knowledgeable the flight crew were unwilling participants.

Posted by: Mark Sletten | May 2, 2011 6:04 AM    Report this comment

Firing the controller/supervisor seems reasonable. Otherwise, small planes CAN BE USED AS WEAPONS. If this is an approved ATC procedure then all an SR22 PIC needs to do is act asleep and "bait" a big plane. Once withing 600'.....

If you need an intercept, call for interceptors. That's why they are called interceptors.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 2, 2011 6:54 AM    Report this comment

I'm trying to decide if I would be upset by this intercept if my wife and kids were aboard the aircraft. Even given the close proximity I think not. We are an aviation family, used to aircraft and at times have been very close to other aircraft in flight. Sometimes even unintentionally. I can completely dismiss the idea of someone using small airplanes as a weapon. That's fear mongering by someone who does not understand GA and it's people in this country. I think the media has blown this way out of proportion and your commentary Paul, has offered an opportunity to add to the panic and extend it to the people who should know better than to proliferate the fear of airplanes and their crazy pilots to the uneducated public. We are creating or have created an environment of political correctness that nearly criminalizes pilots or controllers that act outside of the "accepted" set of weak sister parameters. Therefore we digress in our expertise and professionalism. Just my opinion Paul but then maybe it's a better news piece than you crying about how someone told you to "be careful."

Posted by: Willie Sinsel | May 2, 2011 8:12 AM    Report this comment

Firing people for making questionable decisions sends the message that controllers and ATP pilots are not allowed to make ANY decisions. Since this this really isn't covered by the FARs (When asked to help by ATC) then how about covering it and then giving some training time to those involved.

As to how dangerous it was, I don't see it as being all that dangerous **IF** the 737 pilot had ANY formation training. The SR22 was on a strait and level attitude and the 737 had vis on the target. If the SR33 made any changes or turned into the 737, the 737 pilots could have gotten themselves away from that plane in a second. Remember the top speed, climb speed, and acceleration of both aircraft. The SR22 wouldn't stand a chance of turning into the 737 if the pilot was flying formation off the SR22.


Posted by: Randy DeVere | May 2, 2011 9:15 AM    Report this comment

On the 737 and SR33, I think it was poor judgment. Maybe not as serious as LaHood sees it but not a good practice.

For people that work back of the clock shifts and if you don't you won't really get it. I think a short nap is a far safer thing to do rather than be half asleep trying to fly or control traffic. I was a professional pilot for many years and fell asleep in the seat a few times. The worst was on short final after flying all night. The politicians are not qualified and certainly shouldn't take the attitude of just firing someone without understand the complexities of the job and situation.

Posted by: Clif Walker | May 2, 2011 9:57 AM    Report this comment

As retired controller I feel as if firing was a bit strong for an event that was most certainly performed with the agreement of the Southwest pilot and was accepted voluntarily. Days off without pay and retraining seem more appropriate.

I once vectored a C-130 to a loose formation with a Mooney in which the pilot was having trouble navigating in the very dark night, the C-130 lead the way to a safe landing. Have to wonder if my "atta boy" would be replaced with unemployment today?

I was very pleased to see the announcement that the FAM (familiarization cockpit rides) program would resume. As a controller in the sixties and seventies I found taking trips in the jump seat of various airlines and private aircraft both educational and a valuable training tool. This program, if used properly, gives the controller an idea of what happens on the other side of the radar scope.


Posted by: Ray Laughinghouse | May 2, 2011 10:28 AM    Report this comment

It seems that our current knee-jerk reaction to any publicized problem is to fire anyone who makes a mistake. This has a number of unfortunate consequences: (1) it eliminates an experienced person from the staff of whatever organization is involved, and (2) it makes those left behind overly wary of thinking rather than simply using rote solutions. Sure, it's often best to simply follow the rules. But occasionally some imaginative thinking yields a much better solution to the problem at hand.

Wouldn't it be better to order some retraining for someone who makes a mistake? Unless the person is really incompetent (and if they are, we should then be asking how they got to where they are), we end up with an experienced person who has learned a lesson and is that much more competent.

It's ironic that on one hand the FAA fires a controller who falls asleep on the job, and on the other hand is concerned about having enough controllers. It's also sad that the napping solution is being ditched for political purposes when there is so much science showing its effectiveness.

And if Congress insists on micromanaging safety, the congresspersons involved should be required to demonstrate their competence in the field they are micromanaging.

Posted by: Jonathan Spencer | May 2, 2011 10:49 AM    Report this comment

" vectoring a Southwest 737 into close contact with a Cirrus. Real close, it turns out."


100 ft vertically and 600 ft laterally is not that close. You sensationalize it by saying "real close." It would only be "real close" had the 737 jock not had a visual on the Cirrus.

The NTSB report says -- and you emphasize -- the 737 crew did not formally declare they had visual contact, but do you really think they would have pressed in as close as they did without a tally-ho?

What we actually have here is an example showing how risk assessment professionals, lawyers, and bureaucrats have eclipsed the age when a "Galahad of the Skies" would go willingly to the aid of a fellow aviator.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | May 2, 2011 11:56 AM    Report this comment

Let's look at the reality of working a graveyard shift. I can speak with some authority about graveyards because I worked one in the post office for several years as an Electronic Technician, working on high voltage, computer controlled mail processing equipment. The only safety issues I had were making sure my soft bod and others working with me went unharmed when doing preventive and corrective maintenance. The world around us is geared for Monday - Friday work, with weekends and post 5pm hours off. I knew guys working graveyards that tried to live according to that schedule as priority, and suffering the drowsies when they came in to earn their regular pay with a night shift differential. It's supposed to compensate you for the physical wear and tear and the inconvenience of being out of sync with the rest of the world. If some of those controllers are trying to stay in sync with the rest of the world AND give their job second priority, then I can guarantee you they will not be 100% fit for duty. And at no time do I recall the Post Office debating the issue of allowing cat naps to ameliorate fatigue. I adopted a lifestyle that wasn't fun socially, but I did show up for work 9 times out of 10 ready for the job. I wasn't totally unaffected by a graveyard schedule, but that's what the night shift differential tried to address. The controllers that work those shifts MUST have the self discipline to give priority to showing up on the job well rested and ready for work.

Posted by: Donald Brewster | May 2, 2011 11:59 AM    Report this comment

Donald, your response is quite true. There is an exception to that when you don't work that same shift all the time. Your circidaim rythum is disrupted and its difficult to force yourself to adjust effectively.

Posted by: Clif Walker | May 2, 2011 12:07 PM    Report this comment

To Donald Brewster: I've never worked a graveyard shift, but I'd say you're missing a key point in that the controllers have no choice about "trying to stay in sync with the rest of the world?" IIRC, they're supposed to work 2 graveyards, 2 mids, and 2 "normal days" in every week. They aren't allowed to choose to work only midnight shifts as you were.

Posted by: Roy Etter | May 2, 2011 12:19 PM    Report this comment

Yes, it is the rotating shift that is the root of the problem including the fast turnarounds. Very Difficult to get the proper rest with only 8 or 9 hours between shifts.

I sincerely believe the only answer is a week or two of one shift before rotating to another.

Why must shifts rotate? Because present rules require that all personnel have the opportunity to work the premium pay shifts. At least one facility I worked at had a volunteer, Monday through Friday, day shift.... Ray

Posted by: Ray Laughinghouse | May 2, 2011 12:23 PM    Report this comment

"Why must shifts rotate?"

Excellent question Ray, and the constantly rotating shifts are the heart of the problem. How could anyone look at the sequence of "two graveyards, two mids, and two day shifts" and not realize that is a recipe for controllers not being at their best?

The solution is some sanity in how the FAA schedules shifts so the controllers internal body clocks and light-dark rhythms have a chance to get in balance. Perhaps something like a month on the graveyard shift, then four days off to reset your body; then two months on mids followed by four days off to reset; then two months on the day shift followed by more reset days. (The reason for the imbalance is that not as many are needed to staff the graveyard shift. The exact ratio would of course require in-depth analysis.)

Why do present rules require all personnel have the opportunity to work a premium pay shift? Is that a union thing? That seems like an issue the FAA leadership must address.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | May 2, 2011 12:48 PM    Report this comment

100 ft vertically and 600 ft laterally is not that close.

It wouldn't be if there were some gain perhaps, but there isn't here. We just disagree and Galahad of the Skies and political correctness have nothing to do with it. It's just different people looking at the same set of variables and coming to a different conclusion. No absolutes. (All of the controllers I polled are also pilots. Three are instructors.)

Interestingly, even though I admitted I might do this myself, I wouldn't want it done to me.


Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 2, 2011 12:59 PM    Report this comment

Perhaps Congress, the SecDOT, and others should be directed to follow the same schedules that controllers are being made to follow and then fire a few of them as they're caught napping. How many times have we seen pictures of congressmen asleep in meetings or even on the Congressional floor? Maybe then someone might finally "get it!"

Posted by: Rick Hall | May 2, 2011 1:12 PM    Report this comment

Hey Gary... No, it's not a union thing, it is part of the government regulations that all personnel have equal opportunity to work premium and overtime shifts. Of course the volunteer shifts to work only the non-premium shifts is okay as long as your "volunteering" is voluntary.

The facility I mentioned had a waiting list.... Ray

Posted by: Ray Laughinghouse | May 2, 2011 1:31 PM    Report this comment

I once worked a job (not ATC) where we were on a shift six months at a stretch then rotated. In less than a year I wasn't even sure what day it was. It doesn't matter if you concientiously try to sleep between shifts. Unless you can sleep nights life gets in the way. Lawnmowers make noise, phones ring, you need to go to school conferences etc. A person working mids will never be as sharp as someone working during normal waking hours.

Posted by: Donald Purney | May 2, 2011 3:45 PM    Report this comment

I have found the issue of controllers sleeping on the job difficult to rationalize based on information published. It appears to me that the single controller on duty is supposed to keep his/hers eyes and ears 100% of the time on monitoring possible traffic which makes no sense at all. If this indeed is the job description how is this individual supposed to take care of his/hers natural physiological needs? Even with a “Little John” –with as needed “adapter” ---more “serious needs” may indeed necessitate “disconnecting the eyes and ears” from the monitoring duties for some period of time. And what about illnesses during working hours –how is this supposed to be handled? It seems to me that the doctrine of laissez faire was what has actually been “the controlling philosophy” of the operation of these control towers. It is therefore pathetic to see this issue being first “addressed ad hoc” by firing one single FAA administrator as a sacrificial lamb and, additionally, “suddenly” find the need for one extra controller in some towers. This “correction” appears to be more like a hurried attempt to limit humiliation over shameful and ongoing dereliction of duties of supervisors on several levels.

Posted by: HELGE SKREPPEN | May 2, 2011 4:16 PM    Report this comment

Helge... The answer is yes, the job does require that the controller monitor the airspace and/or radar scope 100% of the time but as most controllers will tell you for those physiological needs the restroom is usually one floor down in a tower so turn the volume up on the radios and dash down the stairs and take care of business.

I know of one case were a controller "over dashed" and broke his leg.

In any case of medical emergency the answer is a call to your supervisor who will most likely be the one to ride to your rescue. This is what the controller did that broke his leg after dragging himself up the narrow staircase to the tower.

Having two people in most towers is a waste unless you have a calamity of this nature but two people makes sense if you really want eyes on 100% of the time.... Ray

Posted by: Ray Laughinghouse | May 2, 2011 4:39 PM    Report this comment

I “\controlled my first aircraft in 1963 while serving in the US Marine Corps. Starting with the FAA in 1969, I worked in progressively busier terminal facilities (Control Tower & Terminal Radar), categorized as Levels 2, 3, 4 and 5. I retired from SoCal Approach, the busiest ATC facility in the world, in 2005. I also earned a Commercial Pilot’s license along the way. During that entire period, including in the Marine Corps, some of the people on duty slept while others took their turn monitoring the radar and radios. The CO and the FAA managers would invariably deny this but they are, without exception, playing that old song made famous by Ronald Reagan, “plausible deniability”, and resurrected by Bill Clinton as “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

As a young Air Traffic Controller in the FAA, I was the “iron man” that everybody wanted to work the “mid” shift (11pm to 7am) with. (The “iron man” is the guy who works the entire shift while the supervisor(s) and other controller(s), if any, sleep through most of it.) I also had a fatal, off-airport crash occur during one of those shifts at a facility where there were three of us on duty, two controllers and a supervisor.

It was about 2:30am and, as far as I knew, there were two aircraft in the whole world and one of them had just disappeared from radar a mile from the runway and was no longer talking to me.

End Part 1 of 2

Posted by: Bob Merrilees | May 2, 2011 5:54 PM    Report this comment

Part 2 of 2

The ensuing 3.5 hours was a firestorm of activity: coordinating the search for the downed aircraft with Airport police on the radio, the City police on the phone, the Fire Department on another radio, the news media (who had picked this up on their scanner) on another phone, initiating calls to the facility manager, the NTSB, the adjacent ATC facilities, the aircraft still in the air and on and on, down a checklist that took up several typewritten pages. Three of us were barely able to manage the workload and, according to the rules now in place, I would (supposedly) be relieved of duty “immediately” if this occurred today.

But (Transportation Secretary) Ray LaHood thinks it is too expensive to put two controllers in a tower where this exact incident could occur on any given night. And I mean “exact” because up until a couple of days ago one controller staffed the Tower where this occurred. It is absolutely impossible for one person to respond to this type of incident in the manner that is required by the relevant directives. It is completely disingenuous of bureaucrats like LaHood and (Administrator) Babbit to, in effect, assign a task that is impossible to accomplish.

Now consider this: These incidents happen all the time yet, up until now, you probably never heard of them. Why now? And what is the source of this information? My guess: Congressman John Mica's (R. Fla 7) office. Why don't you ask him?


Posted by: Bob Merrilees | May 2, 2011 5:55 PM    Report this comment

Hmmmm....sounds like a fun call from a controller. I found myself wishing i would get vectored to intercept some traffic today. What strikes me as odd is that it was performed in a 737 with passengers!!! Im surprised todays society produced such a potentially risky maneuver. I think everyone meant well and banking away in formation is easy. Firing was too harsh.

I have been vectored into loose formation with a C130 before in my mooney. the wife and I were waving like schoolchildren and the c130 rocked his wings and waved. It was super cool for all involved. I thanked the pilots and controllers.

Posted by: Brad Vaught | May 2, 2011 8:39 PM    Report this comment

Ok, bad idea. But it showed some initiative on the controllers' part. No one was hurt. As I said e last time we discussed this, slap their hands, and modify their judgement process.

But another question came to mind. What if the NORDO was the 737 and the only available intercept was a GA jet (no military fighters within range)? Would it be more palatable then?

Posted by: Kingsley Hill | May 3, 2011 9:02 AM    Report this comment

"But it showed some initiative on the controllers' part."


Unfortunately, in today's society, initiative is often frowned upon. We now have so many rules and regulations and lawyers and bureaucrats overseeing them, that anyone who is proactive and shows initiative is likely to get a severe slap on the wrist. Layers and layers of rules, regulations, and statutes have led to bureaucratic rigidity that can stifle initiative and common sense.

Was it the best idea to intercept a Cirrus with a 737 loaded with PAX? Perhaps not, but the incident will undoubtedly lead to another layer of regulations saying, "There will be no more of that." that will only further take away the power of people to think. Regulations, rules, and statutes can guide us, but only people can think.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | May 3, 2011 11:23 AM    Report this comment

The Cirrus event was worked by Orlando TRACON, not JAX, though JAX ARTCC was involved. This is the same approach control that initially worked Payne Stewart's aircraft when that tragedy unfolded, and all of us in the area were profoundly affected. I believe this precedent was at least partly responsible for the attempt made to ascertain the Cirrus' condition. The Operational Error was a technical one, as the correct phraseology was not used; the intent of all parties to do so is clear on the tape. If it had been , the operation would have been legal, and within the B737's judgement as to an appropriate interval, safe.
Most controllers, including myself, have from time to time laid their ticket on the line to take action in responding to emergency conditions, whether real or perceived. And I know many who saved lives in doing so, including myself. And in other cases, like this one, the pilot died anyway, or the action was found excessive; either one has severe repercussions for the controller involved. For this supervisor to be universally condemned is to spit in the face of our conscientious vigilance on pilots' behalf. It is EASY to armchair quarterback a sincere effort to respond to an unusual circumstance; and there are points made that are worth learning. But I would caution those who are derogatory; someday it may be you who cannot communicate and must rely on ATC or other pilots to safeguard you. Do not discourage that initiative.

Posted by: Barbara Walton | May 3, 2011 4:27 PM    Report this comment

I haven't seen it here, but controllers don't work all night long without a break. I don't remember the exact time but they work something like 1 hour then take a break of 15 minutes or so. I see no reason they shouldn't be allowed to "catnap" during their breaks. My brother is a controller and many of them like the rotating shifts. I, for one, will perform much better working one or two night shifts then back to "normal" day shifts as opposed to working all night shifts for a week. Life does and will get in the way and most people, especially with families, simply cannot flip a switch and work the wrong side of the clock for a whole week or more. I am a pilot for a major airline with 12,000 hours. I completely trust and respect the professionals that work ATC. Doesn't mean I don't verify.

P.S. Oh, and Roger said, "I'd think dailing up 121.0 and screem WTF would be a reasonable reaction." Wouldn't get you very far at all. Maybe 121.5! ;-)

Posted by: Thomas Hill | May 4, 2011 6:58 AM    Report this comment

Hey Thomas, You are correct with regard to the larger towers but many of the smaller towers have only one controller on duty during the mid-shift, or maybe one in the tower and one in the radar room.

As an FAA controller I worked many mid-shifts solo at KDAL & KLIT. As a DOD controller we were required to have two fully qualified controllers in the tower/radar room at all times.

Please keep in mind while the cat nap idea sounds good the breaks (including meal breaks) are paid time.

As to the rotating shift there have been many studies done on shift work since the sixties and recommendations made to the FAA. I have not researched it lately but I believe the best recommended schedule was a week or two of one shift then rotate. This after some intense studies... Ray

Posted by: Ray Laughinghouse | May 4, 2011 10:36 AM    Report this comment

I think that the intentions of everyone involved in the 737/Cirrus redezvous were noble. Firing of anyone involved seems a bit harsh. Perhaps some re-education should have been offered (such as was offered to Sen. Imhoff). If anyones' judgement could come into question, it should have been the Southwest crew, who could have refused to help. Do we, however, want to create an atmosphere of indifference, because of the risk of sanctions? Many years ago, I witnessed a man having a heart attack while a helpless crowd looked on. A child's voice, from within the crowd, could clearly be heard saying..."Dad, you are a doctor, why don't you help that man?"

Posted by: Steve Tobias | May 4, 2011 10:43 AM    Report this comment

"I think that the intentions of everyone involved in the 737/Cirrus rendezvous were noble. Do we, however, want to create an atmosphere of indifference, because of the risk of sanctions?"

I agree Steve. As I said previously, pilots used to be thought of as "Galahads of the Sky" ready to go to the aid of those in need or distress. Do we now want pilots who refuse to become involved because of corporate policy or fear of FAA sanction?

In truth there is probably not much the 737 crew could have done other than to give the Cirrus a quick visual inspection and report what they saw, but in visual conditions, any certificated pilot should be capable of safely flying within 600 ft (that's two whole football fields) laterally of another airplane.

After all, everyday on our highways we make high-speed, head-on passes, missing oncoming cars sometimes by no more than 5-6 feet.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | May 4, 2011 11:36 AM    Report this comment

I don't know the shiftrotation in Controltowers. When I was with the Airlines, we bid the shift once a
year or sometimes, twice. Perhaps that would be easier on the Controllers Body, if the work rotation was for a longer period, rather than rotate in just a few weeks.

Posted by: JOE BOLL | May 4, 2011 12:09 PM    Report this comment

The way I see it, when I am a passenger in those 373s I am trusting the pilot to do risky things. Flying is inherently risky. I'm trusting him to be at the right altitudes, to stall a large machine 10 feet off the runway, within feet or inches of a centerline.

If the pilot (and his co-pilot) knows his actions are well within his powers of piloting I'm just going to have to trust him. It comes with flying.

Also, if something was really wrong in the Cirrus and they didn't do something, how would have have gone down?

Posted by: Jon Devine | May 4, 2011 2:17 PM    Report this comment

It seems to me that two whole football field lengths is a safe enough margin, although I'm not sure how much could be seen from the B737 cockpit at that distance.

Many years ago I was in a Cessna 195 floatplane trundling across Washington State, east of the Cascades, when an A-10 suddenly appeared off the left wing. It was pretty close, and an A-10 at that distance looks MEAN! I was in charge of the map and discovered that we'd busted the Yakima military reservation. Oops!

There was no radio contact, but with a rapid turn towards the nearest boundary the A-10 problem went away. To me it was a safe and effective solution - with a lesson learned.

Posted by: JOHN KING | May 4, 2011 5:12 PM    Report this comment

Those who flew night freight, in the early days when few contractors were the least bit responsive to the reality of the circumstances of such operations understand the problem. Now FAA is perpetuating a lack of reality in fatigue management within the controller ranks.

It was near impossible to keep a crew functioning on a Tuesday morning, after being part of the “real world” with their families since Friday morning. It was especially bad if there were no rest facilities (read napping facilities) available during the sort of the cargo. No matter how you tried to sleep that Monday your work night started, it was almost impossible to get any rest on Monday after a normal sleep on Sunday night.

It would appear that the FAA is taking the same "head in the sand" approach to fatigue management by "demanding" (hoping?) that controllers will be rested when they show up for work. That is an unrealistic expectation based on the way that the controller work schedules are often operated.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | May 5, 2011 9:26 AM    Report this comment

I was scheduled major carrier for 34 yrs. It was the same way there. Not all the time but when it did take place you were toast during that entire trip. They said is was legal and by the regulations it was. That didn't make it safe. I have fallen asleep on final approach at 6AM after one of them and it scared the hell out of me!

Posted by: Clif Walker | May 5, 2011 3:34 PM    Report this comment

The Southwest crew knew exactly what they were going to do, they accepted a "Steer" from the controllers to try to help out, They are professionals and would not have done it if they could not see the other plane. The controller did not order them to do it, they were all just trying to help out. If we need an outright ban on helping out in visual conditions lets have one, but lets not punish those trying to "help out" I bet Southwest (and every other airline, now has a policy) I think this one has gone way outside the box.

Posted by: Howard Phorson | May 7, 2011 8:34 AM    Report this comment

The Southwest crew knew exactly what they were going to do, they accepted a "Steer" from the controllers to try to help out, They are professionals and would not have done it if they could not see the other plane. The controller did not order them to do it, they were all just trying to help out. If we need an outright ban on helping out in visual conditions lets have one, but lets not punish those trying to "help out" I bet Southwest (and every other airline, now has a policy) I think this one has gone way outside the box.

Posted by: Howard Phorson | May 7, 2011 8:34 AM    Report this comment

Punishing folks for falling asleep in the overnight hours is like punishing them for eating. What is needed is real acknowledgement that overnight fatigue is a biological event, and apart from folks making a bed and bunking down, inadvertant sleeping is not a punishment situation. Shift rotations, eating, wellness overall, lighting levels and workload will all be involved , as will melatonin levels, cortisone, seratonin etc.
What is needed is a real awareness of the factors at play on an overnight shift. Punishment for the unfortunate few is dark ages stuff.
Any cop, nurse, firefighter, utility worker, pilot, truck driver, train driver, etc will have a story about falling asleep on an overnight.(and yes parking lot attendants too)

Posted by: Howard Phorson | May 7, 2011 8:40 AM    Report this comment

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