Air traffic controllers SHOULD sleep on the job, say experts

Ruth Doherty

The best solution to the problem of sleepy air traffic controllers? Let them nap on the job, say scientists.

The idea would be a radical change for the Federal Aviation Administration. Their current regulations forbid sleeping at work, even during breaks, and controllers who are caught can be suspended or sacked.

But experts now suggest this attitude is outdated.

Gregory Belenky, a sleep expert at Washington State University in Spokane, told the Daily Mail: 'There should be sanctioned on-shift napping. That's the way to handle night shift work'.

There are a host of other scientists in the US and around the world who agree with him.

Sleep studies show that nighttime workers who are allowed 'recuperative breaks' are more alert when they return to their tasks.

A working group on controller fatigue made up of officials from the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents controllers, recently embraced that position as well.

The issue has taken on new resonance in the wake of four recent episodes in which the FAA says controllers fell asleep while on duty.

The most recent case occurred this week when the pilot of a plane transporting a critically ill passenger was unable to raise the sole controller working at 2 am in the tower of the Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada.

The FAA said the controller was out of communication for 16 minutes. Controllers at a regional radar facility in California assisted the plane, which landed safely.

The episodes have sent administration officials desperately trying to assure the public and angry members of Congress that air travel is indeed safe.

Even President Barack Obama weighed in, telling ABC News in an interview,'We've got it under control,' and warning controllers they must stay alert and do their jobs.

In an interview on Friday with Good Morning America, President Obama said: 'The fact is when you're responsible for the lives and safety of people up in the air, you better do your job'.

Well, as the scientists suggest, perhaps they just need a bit more sleep, then?

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