The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is calling on FAA’s Randy Babbitt to address fatigue among its members with recommendations it says previous administrators avoided.

Union President Paul Rinaldi, while applauding the agency’s recent decision to eliminate single staffing on midnight shifts, says all current measures to resolve a series of highly publicized incidents involving sleeping controllers “barely scratch the surface of the problem.

“For more than a decade, NATCA has expressed its deep concerns about increasing controller fatigue. Our national constitution calls for the ending of single staffing on the midnight shift, and for years we have lobbied past administrations and congresses on the need to find solutions to controller fatigue before it is too late,” notes Rinaldi.

“Last week we began an open and honest dialogue with our members about recent incidents and the reminder to always uphold the high standard of professionalism and commitment to safety the public expects. Our members take seriously the personal responsibility each of them has to act appropriately and keep the flying public safe. I know we will win back the trust and confidence of the flying public,” he adds.

Rinaldi, who joined Babbitt on a tour of air traffic facilities to reinforce safety and controller professionalism (Aviation Daily, April 19), says FAA should implement 12 recommendations developed during the past 18 months by a joint working group involving the union and agency.

“There is nothing ground-breaking about these recommendations,” says Rinaldi, without specifying details. “They are common-sense solutions to a problem NATCA and fatigue experts have consistently raised for years, while past administrations turned a blind eye. The recommendations are based on advice from NASA and the military and in line with international air traffic control best practices. If we are serious about addressing controller fatigue, then every recommendation must be adopted and implemented.”

Rinaldi also calls on Congress to pass the FAA reauthorization bill (Aviation Daily, April 19), which he says includes a number of provisions addressing fatigue.

“Here’s the bottom line: It is safe to fly. It has never been safer to fly,” adds Rinaldi.

“Just this week, the [National Transportation Safety Board] announced that the safety of the system had improved in 2010, with no fatal accidents recorded on commercial flights. Air traffic controllers safely oversee 70,000 flights a day and run the safest, most efficient national airspace system in the world. You are safer riding on an airplane in this country than riding an escalator,” he notes.

Speaking to reporters Monday, NTSB Member Mark Rosekind says that the recently announced plans are just a start and that a comprehensive solution must be addressed. Rosekind, who came to the safety board as one of the most pre-eminent specialists on transportation fatigue issues, sees education as a key part of the solution and says any measures taken must be grounded in science.

Short naps are one such science-based measure, he says. While FAA has been reluctant to back controlled naps, Rosekind notes that research has shown that “a controlled nap improves performance significantly.” FAA has conducted research on short naps—and that research has been used to implement them in other parts of the world, he notes. However, NTSB has not made any formal recommendations on controlled naps, he notes, adding the agency instead has stressed the science.

Controlled naps are one of a number of science-based measures, says Rosekind, citing engagement (which he says could be a simple conversation) or activity as other possibilities. Rosekind acknowledges the initial actions discussed, saying they are focused on the “core” issue. But, he cautions those measures must still be implemented and it remains to be seen whether a comprehensive solution is implemented. Those actions should include a fatigue-risk management plan, he says, adding, “If you don’t have a [fatigue-risk management plan] and you just throw more people at it, then you have more tired people.”

Rosekind notes the recent public focus on controller fatigue but stresses that controller fatigue has been an issue before the board for 30 years. “These aren’t new,” he says.