NTSB Moves Fatigue, Professionalism Off Most Wanted List
Friday, November 16, 2012


NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman looks on as NTSB Board Member Earl Weener answers questions at the NTSB Most Wanted List 2013 press briefing.



NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman and NTSB Board Members Robert Sumwalt, middle, and Mark Rosekind, right, listen as members of the press ask questions.

NATCA is pleased with the decision by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to drop the issues of fatigue and pilot and air traffic controller professionalism from its “most wanted” list of transportation safety issues for the next year.

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman announced the new “most wanted” list at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said NTSB’s decision validates the progress that NATCA and the FAA are making on both issues. Rinaldi added that the news strengthens NATCA’s resolve to continue addressing both important topics with the FAA in a collaborative manner and keeping the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS) the safest and most efficient in the world.

“Our sole focus is the safety of the system. Air traffic controllers and other safety professionals that we represent are fully committed to continuing to meet the highest professional standards,” Rinaldi said. “I want to thank Chairman Hersman and the NTSB staff for their commitment to aviation safety and putting a spotlight on two critically important safety issues. We have listened closely and we have worked collaboratively with the FAA to make improvements. But our work is never done. These are career-long commitments.”

NATCA and the FAA have mitigated issues related to fatigue by:

  • Agreeing to schedule changes, including the addition of a key extra hour of nighttime rest – to provide for a minimum of nine total hours – between an evening shift and a daytime shift the next day.
  • Raising employees’ awareness of fatigue. In addition, every employee is now required to complete a three-and-a-half hour training program, which addresses fatigue, its effects and how to manage personal fatigue risks in a 24/7 operation.
  • Signing an agreement this year to implement a scientifically-based and data-driven Fatigue Risk Management System, which was recommended by a NATCA-FAA working group. It will analyze, identify and recommend additional mitigation strategies.

On the issue of professional standards, for the first time, NATCA and the FAA are collaborating through the National Professional Standards Program for air traffic controllers and other safety-related positions. The program’s development began in 2010 to complement and support the Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP). The goal of the program is to promote and maintain the highest degree of professional conduct among employees while also monitoring performance, maintaining accountability and recognizing examples of exceptional professionalism.

This peer-to-peer solutions program is the first of its kind in the U.S. air traffic control profession and is just a few months away from a complete rollout across the NAS, with over 318 Professional Standards Committee members from 202 facilities trained and working on issues.

FOR MORE ON THIS ISSUE:

NTSB press release, which includes details on each of its 10 most wanted list items.

Press Release from the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which cited NATCA as helping to lead efforts “to ensure that the highest standards of professionalism continue to be maintained.”


How NATCA and FAA Have Addressed Fatigue, Professionalism


A look at what NATCA and the FAA have accomplished collaboratively thus far on the key safety issues of fatigue and professional standards:

FATIGUE

  • In 2009, NATCA and the FAA began working collaboratively to aggressively address fatigue issues by forming a Fatigue Risk Management Working Group. This group looked extensively at sleep studies and conducted its own sleep study, with the assistance of NASA, on controllers working a typical weekly rotation of day, evening and midnight shifts. The working group approached the issue with a science-based approach.
 
  • The working group was tasked with identifying ways to reduce fatigue among the controller workforce in order to increase the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS) and improve the health and wellbeing of the workforce.  The group’s work culminated with the presentation of a dozen recommendations to the FAA, which were implemented with an agreement signed and announced in July 2011.
 
  • NATCA fully supported the FAA's action to enhance aviation safety by eliminating single staffing on the midnight shift. The FAA’s recommendations on this issue are common sense solutions to a safety problem that NATCA and fatigue experts had raised for several years.
 
  • Earlier this year, an agreement was signed to implement a Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS), a key recommendation from the fatigue working group. It will analyze, identify and recommend mitigation strategies for fatigue risks.
 
  • The FRMS includes representatives from three stakeholders: NATCA, the FAA and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS). They work together to prioritize issues brought forward by the Fatigue Risk Management Team.
 
  • This system is scientifically-based and data-driven. It continuously monitors and manages fatigue risks. The framework is a key component of the FAA’s move to a true safety culture and will guide the next steps of the process moving forward.
 
  • NATCA and the FAA have also agreed to schedule changes, including the addition of a key extra hour of nighttime rest, to provide for a minimum of nine total hours between an evening shift and a daytime shift the next day.
 
  • The FAA has also changed multiple work rules to help employees better manage their rest between times on duty. This includes occasional breaks when needed, with an emphasis on improved fatigue-reduction activities like exercise.
 
  • NATCA and the FAA have put a strong emphasis on raising each safety employee’s awareness of fatigue. To this end, each employee was required this year to complete a three-and-a-half hour training program that addressed fatigue, its effects and how to manage personal fatigue risks in a 24/7 operation.
 

PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS


  • For the first time in history, NATCA and the FAA are collaborating to institute a National Professional Standards Program for Air Traffic Controllers and other safety related positions of the FAA.
 
  • The program’s development began in 2010 to complement and support the Air Traffic Safety Action Program, an individual, online safety reporting system. The goal of the program is to promote and maintain the highest degree of professional conduct while also monitoring performance, maintaining accountability and recognizing examples of exceptional professionalism.
 
  • The program presents an opportunity for the workforce to resolve issues before they escalate to a higher level.
 
  • The program is designed to ensure that its participants view it as non-judgmental, non-accusatory and non-confrontational in order to encourage participation and therefore a more professional working environment. It is confidential and voluntary.
 
  • The program works well with the recently created code of an air traffic controller by reinforcing concepts such as professional air traffic controllers’ commitment to safety and excellence, as well as establishing and upholding the public trust and bringing honor and respect to the profession.
 
  • This peer-to-peer solutions program is the first of its kind and is just a few months away from a complete rollout across the National Airspace System, with over 318 Professional Standards Committee members from 202 facilities trained and working on issues.
 
  • Professional Standards Committee members are trained over a three-day course that includes briefings on the program and its importance to every employee, how it can be implemented at individual facilities and what types of submissions to the program can be accepted and considered. During each training period, management is briefed on how to implement and use the program, and on day one of the course there is a short training period for any FAA employee who wants to learn about the program.
 
  • Committee members are also trained in conflict resolution, mediation, mentoring, listening skills and communication methods proven to promote professionalism and achieve successful resolutions of submissions.
 
  • The Professional Standards Committee can accept any issues, with the exception of:
          - CBS disagreements;
          - Substance abuse;
          - ATSAP-covered events NOT forwarded by the Events Review Committee (ERC);
          - Immediate threats to the National Airspace System;
          - Legal, medical or criminal issues;
          - Security violations; and
          - Gross negligence.

  • The Professional Standards team, consisting of three NATCA National Professional Standards representatives and their FAA counterparts, expects the program to be operational in every air traffic control facility by March 2013. The team is excited about the positive attitude they are seeing agency wide and about the great level of participation throughout the country. On August 28 this year, the Professional Standards Program team handled nine individual issues, marking the largest single day of cases resolved. More than 280 issues have been successfully resolved so far, out of a total of about 315 cases submitted.