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| 2 minutes read

FAA addresses air traffic controller fatigue

FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker announced last week new rest rules to apply to U.S. air traffic controllers.  These new rules seek to address and minimize risks associated with controller fatigue which, according Mr. Whitaker’s Memorandum, has been a contributory factor to recent near misses at airports across the country. These incidents have garnered the public’s and FAA’s attention. Between October 2022 and September 2023, the FAA reported 23 “serious” near misses at airports. According to the FAA’s public announcement last week on April 19, 2024, the new rest rules stand to enhance safety of the national airspace system.  After all, the FAA’s controllers assist over 45,000 flights daily, that carry approximately 2.9 million passengers. 


In many circumstances, controllers are currently required to rest nine hours between shifts.  The FAA’s new directive, which entails modification to FAA Order 7210.3DD, raises this requirement to ten hours.  For midnight shifts, the rest requirement is raised to twelve hours.  The FAA’s directive is to become effective in 90 days. 


In addition to the string of near misses, expert recommendations impacted the FAA’s decision to enhance controller rest hours.  Specifically, the new rest rules were announced in conjunction with the release of a report relating to fatigue and rest that was commissioned by the FAA at the end of 2023.  The report was authored by a panel of scientific experts on air traffic controller safety, work hours, and health. In the 114-page report, the panel “strongly urges” the FAA to take swift action on four recommendations, including: 

  • “Require[ing] sufficient time off-duty” before all shifts (e.g., 10-12 hours) as part of a strategy to update the current rest policies to address identified fatigue factures, especially relating to scheduling. 
  • Create an integrated system to house all relevant materials relating to FAA ATO Fatigue Risk Management activities such as policies and regulations related to fatigue.
  • Work to eliminate instances where rest policies are exceeded through monitoring and remedy mechanisms.
  • Develop and implement a strategy to eliminate a prevailing scheduling practice called the “2-2-1 schedule”.  Under the 2-2-1 model, controllers rotate from two afternoon shifts to two mornings and then end with a midnight shift over one work week. 

In addition to these four priority actions, the expert panel identified in the report 54 other opportunities for specific actions to mitigate fatigue risks in controller operations. 

Offering an alternative perspective, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) warned that the new rules may lead to coverage holes in air traffic facilities’ schedules, creating additional risk.  In the opinion of the NATCA, one method to reduce fatigue is to hire more controllers.  In his statement, FAA Administrator Whitaker noted that the FAA met its hiring goal of 1,500 controllers last year, and has an even larger hiring goal of 1,800 controllers this year.  The implementation and effects of the new rest hours will be an item to watch. 


aviation, regulation, transportation