For months I’ve been sitting here defending the air traffic controller workforce against FAA’s penal-colony work tactics of forced overtime. I did this because I believe that, like tired pilots, tired controllers are more prone to mistakes. I still think we’ll see that the increase in controller errors has a relationship to the amount of time and the schedule these people work.
But now I find out that many FAA controllers are happily working overtime and six day weeks, even volunteering for the extra duty. FAA acting administrator Bobby Sturgell’s recent letter to Congressman Sam Graves said so, right there on page two paragraph five. So did the GAO report that came out on Wednesday.
NATCA’s Pat Forrey testified before the House subcommittee on Aviation about runway safety right alongside FAA’s Hank Krakowski yesterday as well.
Forrey said, in part, “Today there are 1,500 fewer fully-certified controllers than there were on 9/11 â€“ leaving fewer eyes to watch more planes, and the result is increased controller fatigue (my emphasis).”
Forrey added, “NATCA is not alone in sounding the alarm on passenger safety. The NTSB and GAO have determined that the threat of controller fatigue is real. The increase of runway incursions is real too. There have been 12 serious A and B runway incursion the first four months of FY 2008 compared to 3 during the same time frame last year. The warnings of the GAO, the IG, and the NTSB should not go unheeded. NATCA stands by ready, willing and able to offer real solutions. We can only hope that the FAA is really listening.”
You had me at “the threat of runway incursions is real.” But come on folks.
You can’t have it both ways complaining on the one hand complaining about understaffed ATC facilities and overworked controllers while quite a few are grabbing the golden rings the agency is tossing out and exhausting themselves in the process.
The numbers in the GAO report on Runway Safety show that 85 percent of the controllers at Hartsfield Tower volunteered for OT. At Houston Intercontinental the number was 97 percent and at Nashville the number is 75 percent.
OK folks, please tell our readers how we make sense of this? We’re supposed to stress out about runway incursions sometimes caused by tired controllers. But we’re also supposed to turn our heads while you wear yourselves out for the money. The data seems to show that more than just a few controllers would rather have the money than a good night’s sleep too.
But maybe I have this all wrong and controllers really aren’t talking out of both sides of their mouth.
This is a blog. We’ll listen. So c’mon … “splain” it to me.