WASHINGTON — Air traffic controllers will be guaranteed a minimum of nine hours off between scheduled shifts under a plan to be implemented this week by the Federal Aviation Administration.
"We expect controllers to come to work rested and ready to work and take personal responsibility for safety in the control towers," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Sunday. "We have zero tolerance for sleeping on the job."
The FAA said the new rules were already in place, but they might not take full effect until the end of the week.
"Research shows us that giving people the chance for even an additional one hour of rest during critical periods in a schedule can improve work performance and reduce the potential for fatigue," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said.
The announcement by LaHood and Babbitt came a day after a seventh air traffic controller was suspended for sleeping on the job. The incident in a Miami traffic center prompted Babbitt to announce the immediate changes in scheduling practices.
Finalizing those changes took negotiation with the controllers union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, whose members favor scheduling practices that compress their schedule and lengthen their weekends to three days or more.
The changes include a guaranteed nine-hour minimum between shifts and a ban on trading shifts with other controllers unless the minimum is met.
LaHood said on Fox News Sunday that the flying public needs to be assured that the nation's aviation system is safe. "I'm really mad about it," he said.
The sleeping controllers have been working overnight shifts, and until their dozing was discovered, at least 28 control facilities had just one controller working that shift. Babbitt and LaHood already had ordered an end to single-person staffing.
The FAA also said more managers will be on duty during the early morning hours and at night to remind controllers that nodding off is unacceptable.