WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration announced new steps Friday to help prevent air traffic controllers from falling asleep on the job, including allowing controllers to use sick or annual leave time if they are too tired to work.
Controllers will also now be allowed to listen to the radio and read to help stay alert during overnight shifts when traffic is light under an agreement between the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
However, the policy changes don’t include allowing controllers to take naps while on break or to schedule naps during overnight shifts even though sleep scientists say that’s the most effective way to refresh tired workers.
Currently, controllers caught napping, even when on break, can be fired.
“While on break, air traffic controllers are expected to conduct themselves professionally and be available for recall at all times,” the agency said in a statement.
Since April, the FAA has disclosed seven instances of controllers sleeping on the job and two other instances of controllers who didn’t respond to attempts to contact them. In one case, two airliners landed at Reagan National airport in northern Virginia near Washington without assistance from a controller who has acknowledged dozing off.