Should Air Traffic Controllers Be Allowed to Nap?

Some say planned naps for controllers would solve the fatigue problem.

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Air traffic controllers have made headlines recently—and have made travelers nervous—with several instances of sleeping on the job. At least three controllers have been suspended within the past month, and now every airport must be staffed with two air traffic controllers on the midnight shift. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he was “totally outraged by these incidents,” and Randy Babbitt, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, said, “We absolutely cannot and will not tolerate sleeping on the job.”

But the union representing FAA air traffic controllers is suggesting controllers do just that: sleep on the job.

Fatigue is inevitable in overnight work, proponents say, so monitored naps should be part of the gig. “A controlled nap can improve performance significantly,” said Mark Rosekind, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. Rosekind, a recognized sleep expert, pointed to NASA studies that discovered a 26-minute nap improved alertness by 54 percent. He suggests planned on-the-job naps could actually solve the problem of unplanned and dangerous on-the-job naps. “If you don't have a fatigue management plan and you just throw more people at it,” Rosekind said, “you're just going to have more tired people.”

But USA Today reporter Alan Levin suggested on PBS Newshour that implementing a nap policy would be politically difficult. “I think there's a feeling in the administration that this wouldn't pass what they call the Jay Leno test,” he said. “In other words, it would be ridiculed and joked about. So they're kind of afraid to go and do that.”

LaHood and Babbitt have said they will not pay people to sleep, and they point to a new rule requiring another hour between shifts—controllers now must have at least nine hours off—as a more appropriate solution. “Taking advantage of the time you have to rest is also a professional responsibility,” Babbitt said.

What do you think? Should air traffic controllers be allowed to nap? Take the poll and post your thoughts below.

--Mallie Jane Kim

This poll is now closed, but the debate continues in the comments section.

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