April 19, 2011


There are a few things that are certain about Air Traffic Control as a career:

1 - The schedule is crazy. Whether I claim to like it or not, working two nights-three days, three nights-two days, or two nights-two days-mid is NOT healthy for humans. I think my best alternative would be working five night shifts, but I pretend to have a social life after my day shifts occasionally.

2 - This job is stressful. I have only recently realized what this means, although I'm not sure if has to do with the soulless, windowless room that I work in, full of computer air or the actual controlling of airplanes. Sometimes its none of the above, sometimes is some of the above, and sometimes its everything and I just want a month off.

The FAA begrudgingly throws money at us to make us stop complaining about how stressful it can be working a crappy schedule. But is that why we make decent money?

Apparently, money is supposed to make me less tired at 4am when I have ZERO airplanes and there is nothing to do but stare at a blank computer screen. Fun experiment: At 12am tonight, turn off all the lights in your house, except for a reading light nearby, sit in front of your computer screen, and stay up until 5:30am. Emailing, reading, phone calls, text messaging, listening to music and "cat naps" are not permitted. Did you make it? Nice job! Do that again every Friday night for the next 20 years. Act professional, stay awake, and quit your bitchin'.

So, I'd like to say that I'm glad this is something we can finally talk about. We have a problem that has not been addressed. Controllers are tired at 3am. Shocker. So instead of ignoring it until we get caught (oh, wait, we're talking about this because we DID get caught), lets do something about it that makes sense and helps us perform our jobs effectively 24/7. None of us like being really tired. Those of us that work the Mid tend to start our weekend off half-dead. This schedule is slowly killing all of us. So lets be open to change for the better. This is an opportunity to increase the safety of the NAS.

Also, I'd be willing to start a conversation about truth number 2 at any time. Stress seems to be something that controllers shrug off. Its an inside joke. But maybe there are ways we can make the stress screw us up less. I can feel it building sometimes, and I don't know what to do about it. Oh wait, I'm not supposed to talk about that. Sorry.

Till next time...


That is all I have to say about this.

Oh. NERD ALERT: I read the entire Northeast US Airport Facility Directory (AFD) to stay awake one night. The preferred routes to the Cape were on page 444. Not sure if that is still true....(FAA related documents are approved reading).


"La Vida de Perro" Rich's Excellent Adventure in Paradise said...

I worked for the FAA for 25 years. I hated mid shifts. I couldn't sleep before them, so I drank a barrel of coffee and ate sugar-laden apple pie before work. By three AM my eyes burned, my nose dried out and my legs ached.

I retired, and then after a couple of years at a contract tower I lost my medical due to heart problems. The doctors put three stents into my stress-clogged, sugar-encrusted coronary arteries and said I was a lucky guy.

Are you lucky Delta Mike?

DisgruntledFlyer said...

Why the big concern NOW though? Is it just coming to light?

If it is a problem and has been, why doesn't the union work with the gov't to create a mutually acceptable and safety-first type schedule? I have the suspicion it is due to the want to distribute night differential evenly across the ranks. But surely there are people who are hungry for the extra pay and those who are natural night owls, and those who value nights off with family more than the differential.

Industry makes it work with near constant staffing around the clock. I think you guys can make it work no problem since you don't need a full crew overnight.

Don Brown said...


Next time, read the facility operations manual. Or the 7110.65. Or even better, the AIM. Perhaps you too have the knack I had -- being able to wade through government documents. If you can, I can assure you that knowing the rules better than the supervisors and managers will make them nuts. Not to mention, it will make you a better controller.

And if you really want to blow their minds, ask for a copy of the Facility Orders to read on the mid. They are unique to each facility so there are usually only 2 copies. We always kept ours locked up but you're supposed to be given access to them. (I assume things haven't changed -- because they never do.)

Don Brown

Robert said...

Why the FAA would ignore the NTSB comments on this subject is beyond me. The FAA should work to find an answer here, something other than 'don't fall asleep'!

Anonymous said...

I retired from the FnAA 3 weeks after I was eligible. My only regret was that I waited 3 weeks too long. The 2-2-1 schedule was not too bad the first 5-10 years, but the older I got the harder it was on me. At the end of the week I was physically and mentally exhausted.

I am now working as a controller overseas and I tell everyone I know how much better the schedule we work here is compared to the FAA. I work 2 morning shifts (0600-1300), 24 hours off, 2 afternoon shifts (1300-2200), 24 hours off, and two night shifts (2200-0600). Our whole crew works the nights but generally only one or two controllers is assigned the whole shift. The others get either the first or last 4 hours off. Those who must be present for the full shift are given 2-3 hours off in the middle where they are encouraged to take a nap in one of the sleeping rooms. Getting off the 2nd night shift we have the rest of that day and 3 more days off. It is a beautiful schedule and I have never felt better. If the FAA would implement it I guarantee controllers would love it and a side benefit is they would be much healthier. Of course I don't expect the FAA would ever implement such a radical change. After all, the problem is now solved with a mandatory 9 hours between shifts!