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Aug. 18, 2017 // TOTI: A Personal Plea to Stop Distractions

TOTIWatch the new video.

Controllers from across the country from facilities large and small are speaking out on the impact of electronic distractions and the potentially catastrophic consequences of them in the control room.

“It is that person’s family, it is your family on that airplane,” Brandon Miller, NATCA FacRep at Potomac TRACON, says in the new video. “And for what? A tweet? A Facebook message?”

The joint Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-NATCA distraction awareness campaign, Turn Off Tune In, reminds controllers to be conscious of the dangers of distractions while maintaining the highest standard of professionalism in operation.

The FAA requires air traffic controllers and managers to power down phones and other personal electronic devices before entering the operational area. Turn Off Tune In encourages air traffic professionals to go further, and leave these devices outside of control rooms entirely — placing them instead on charging stations, in lockers, break rooms, or other safe places at the facility.

Extensive research shows that even the sight of a phone can be distracting in the workplace. A 2014 study found that students with no visible cellphone performed various motor tasks better than the groups with a visible phone.

And a similar 2015 study with college students, covered in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, concluded that participants whose phones made some kind of noise were more likely to make errors in performing tasks than the students whose phones stayed completely silent.

“There are so many distractions that we can’t control in our work environment, and turning off our phones is one that we can,” said Lydia Baune, Spokane Tower controller and district lead for the Professional Standards Committee.

And one controller being distracted can directly lead to another controller being distracted.

“When you come in and you have a cell phone, you’re distracting me,” said Leah Hickling of Southern California TRACON. “You’re distracting everybody else that you work with. And I want to be more professional. And I don’t want your distractions.”

Controllers in a facility work as a team, and controllers across the country are a community, where every member plays a critical role in ensuring the safest airspace system in the world. If just one distracted controller compromises safety, it affects the jobs of many more.

“Every transmission, every aircraft, every pilot, every passenger, they all matter. And it’s 100 percent our job,” said Josh Cooper, a controller at Southern California TRACON and Professional Standards National Workgroup member.

This story has been published jointly by the FAA and NATCA. Learn more about how controllers and managers are eliminating distractions by visiting the Turn Off Tune In webpage on the members side of natca.org.