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WASHINGTON — The government said air traffic controllers would have more time to rest between shifts under new work rules announced Sunday, while Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made clear he won’t tolerate sleeping on duty despite studies and expert recommendations that suggest scheduled shut-eye can help combat fatigue.
“On my watch, controllers will not be paid to take naps. We’re not going to allow that,” LaHood said. “They are going to be paid to do the job that they’re trained to do, which involves guiding planes in and out of airports safely. But we are not going to pay controllers to be napping.”
The Federal Aviation Administration has acknowledged a widespread problem with tired controllers. In recent months there have been five instances of controllers dozing off while on duty. The latest happened early Saturday on a late-night shift in Miami.
The new rules will give controllers at least nine hours off between shifts, compared with eight now. Controllers won’t be able to swap shifts to get a long weekend unless there’s at least nine hours off from the end of one shift to the start of the other. More managers will be on duty during the early morning hours and at night to remind controllers that nodding off is unacceptable.
“We’ve taken steps, as of this morning, to begin changing schedules for controllers, to change schedules for managers, and to make sure that controllers cannot switch in and out of their schedules in order for the convenience of them if they are not well-rested,” LaHood said on Fox News Sunday.
But LaHood said he would not allow controllers to take naps on the job, despite research that indicates it might prove beneficial. Other countries, such as Germany and Japan, provide sleeping rooms for controllers on break at night.
An upcoming study by the FAA and National Air Traffic Controllers Association is expected to recommend that controllers take sleeping breaks of as long as 2 1/2 hours during midnight shifts.
LaHood said controllers need to take “personal responsibility for the very important safety jobs that they have.”