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FAA Forces Controller to Work 13 Straight Hours - (12/29/2008)

CONTACTS:  NATCA Eastern Regional Vice President Phil Barbarello, 516-381-6424; Griffiss Tower NATCA Facility Representative Patrick O’Brien, 516-984-5222 

ROME, N.Y. – An air traffic controller at Griffiss International Airport was forced by his Federal Aviation Administration supervisor to work 13 straight hours, from 4 p.m. EST Saturday to 5 a.m. EST Sunday, in a gross violation of federal air regulations.              

Controllers are not permitted to work more than 10 hours in one shift. With the increased attention the National Transportation Safety Board is giving to controller fatigue – including an FAA-ignored April 2007 recommendation for the agency to work with NATCA – this incident indicates a blatant disregard for public safety by the FAA on this issue.

The controller forced to work the long hours started his scheduled shift at 4 p.m. EST. At 5 p.m., the controller who was scheduled to work the midnight shift that night called in sick. The first controller called his FAA supervisor to discuss the situation. When ordered to work until 5 a.m. the next morning, the controller told the supervisor about the 10-hour rule. The supervisor responded that the facility had a “staffing emergency.”

“FAA management failures in regards to properly staffing its facilities does not constitute a staffing emergency,” NATCA Eastern Regional Vice President Phil Barbarello said. “The ‘emergency’ declaration should only be used for extraordinary circumstances, like blizzards, hurricanes or other natural disasters or unforeseen events that prevent relief controllers from getting to the facility.              

“If a single sick call can create an emergency, then what kind of staffing do we really have? This is not just an unsafe incident. It’s very telling as well of the problems in the system caused by this failed agency.”

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