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Human System Integration Division Scientist Participated in an FAA-Commissioned Panel to Assess Fatigue in the Air Traffic Control System
(May 28, 2024)
In the months immediately following his appointment as head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in October, 2023, FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker toured multiple air traffic control (ATC) facilities around the United States to assess the current state of ATC operations. During these tours, concerns were raised regarding controllers’ fatigue. In a safety-critical, 24/7/365 work environment such as air traffic operations, measures must be taken to minimize the risks created by a tired workforce. Pursuant to the FAA’s primary mission to “provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world”, the FAA took action to address these concerns in December, 2023, by commissioning an independent panel of fatigue experts and scientists to evaluate the risks associated with controller fatigue and to provide some recommendations to help mitigate these concerns.

One member of this panel was NASA Human Systems Integration Division’s Dr. Erin Flynn-Evans, lead of the Fatigue Countermeasures Group at NASA Ames Research Center. Over the course of 10 weeks, Dr. Flynn-Evans and her fellow panel members reviewed ATC operations, met with various internal and external stakeholders, visited air traffic operations facilities, and analyzed data from over 700,000 work hours and days off for more than 10,000 controllers during the month of January, 2024.

In its final report, the panel identified multiple near and long-term opportunities to help the FAA mitigate the risks related to workforce fatigue. One of the near-term measures initiated by the FAA will require that controllers get at least 10 hours off between day and evening shifts, with at least 12 hours off before night shifts. Looking forward, additional long-term changes will be implemented by the FAA following the opportunities that were identified by the panel. After the release of the panel’s report, Mr. Whitaker issued a statement praising the collaborative effort between multiple federal agencies and said of the panel, “I appreciate the panel’s time and expertise, and we are committed to a sustained effort to address controller fatigue and ensure our airspace is the safest in the world. These recommendations will significantly aid our efforts, providing a roadmap for our agency.”
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Curator: Phil So
NASA Official: Jessica Nowinski
Last Updated: March 18, 2024