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FAA To Require More Rest Time for Air Traffic Controllers

The FAA is increasing air traffic controller rest times to 10-12 hours, in accordance with recommendations from an expert panel.

A Southwest aircraft taxis in Austin (Photo: Shutterstock)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced that it will be increasing the required time off between shifts for air traffic controllers. The changes come as a result of the recommendations of an expert panel that was tasked with reviewing the risks associated with controller fatigue.

New 10-12 Hour Time Off Requirements

In a statement released earlier today, FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker stated that the FAA would be requiring 10 hours off between shifts, effective in 90 days. Additionally, 12 hours of time off will be required before midnight shifts.

These requirements are consistent with the panel’s findings, which include a recommendation to, “develop and implement a strategy to update the current prescriptive policies to address identified fatigue factors, especially to avoid known schedule practices that induce fatigue.” The panel specifically recommended that the FAA require sufficient time off duty before all shifts and gave an example of 10-12 hours.

Existing regulations limit air traffic controllers from working for more than 10 hours during a 24-hour period unless they have had a rest period of at least eight hours at or before the end of the 10-hour shift. However, an analysis of a dataset covering the first 10 weeks of 2024 by the panel revealed that these requirements were not always being met. The report noted that 442 shifts began with less than eight hours of time off between shifts and 192 shifts began with less than 4 hours off between shifts during the 10-week period.

Growing Concerns Over ATC Fatigue and Staffing

The expert panel was convened in December of 2023, following a year of heightened concerns over air traffic control fatigue and staffing, due to a series of near misses across the U.S. airspace system and staffing shortages throughout the country. The FAA is currently investigating an apparent incident that occurred at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Thursday, where a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 was cleared to cross a runway from which a JetBlue Embraer E190 was also cleared to take off.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), which is the union representing FAA air traffic controllers, stated that it is encouraged that the FAA is addressing air traffic controller fatigue. At the same time, it expressed disappointment that the FAA did not collaborate with NATCA in advance of its announcement.

Recent staffing shortages have led to the FAA assigning mandatory overtime to air traffic controllers. For many controllers, this has meant 6-day work weeks, the maximum allowed under current regulations. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg stated in May of 2023 that the FAA was understaffed by about 3,000 positions at the time.

The latest announcement on rest periods also comes amid an air traffic control hiring campaign. 1,500 new controllers were hired by the FAA in 2023, and the agency has a goal of 18,000 new controller hires this year.

Andrew Chen


  • Andrew Chen

    Andrew is a lifelong lover of aviation and travel. He has flown all over the world and is fascinated by the workings of the air travel industry. As a private pilot and glider pilot who has worked with airlines, airports and other industry stakeholders, he is always excited to share his passion for aviation with others. In addition to being a writer, he also hosts Flying Smarter, an educational travel podcast that explores the complex world of air travel to help listeners become better-informed and savvier travelers.

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