Durbin Requests DOT Review On Air Traffic Controller Errors at O’Hare

WASHINGTON, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–March 3, 2011.  Following a Chicago Tribune report on an increase in air traffic controller errors at O’Hare International Airport, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) called on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct an immediate review of how controller training duties and practices have affected the increased number of mistakes at O’Hare.  The Tribune has reported that operational errors have doubled from six to 17 over the past year.

Durbin also asked the DOT to provide information on what steps that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has taken to implement recommendations from a July 2009 Inspector General Report he requested on air traffic controller fatigue – a common cause of controller error – at Chicago air traffic facilities.

“The Chicago Tribune story suggests training practices remain a serious issue at O’Hare airport,” wrote Durbin.  “This critical safety issue warrants an immediate investigation at O’Hare. We need to determine how the FAA can mitigate controller fatigue at our nation’s busiest, most complex airspace.  Thank you for your consideration of this request.”

After a meeting with the former nominee for Administrator of the FAA, Robert Sturgell, Durbin called for an investigation into air traffic controller conditions, including staffing levels and fatigue, at Chicago air traffic facilities.  The final 2009 report concluded that a number of factors which exist at the three Chicago air traffic facilities – Chicago O’Hare International Airport Air Traffic Control Tower, Chicago Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility, and Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center – could cause controller fatigue including: minimal hours between shifts, scheduled and call-up overtime and on-the-job training.

In light of those fatigue factors, the report recommended that:

  • The FAA should reevaluate the staffing ranges for Chicago O’Hare once the O’Hare Modernization Program is fully implemented to ensure the range is appropriate and meets the new operational needs of the facility;
  • The FAA should implement the following changes to air traffic control facilities: increase the minimum rest period between shifts from 8 to 10 hours; increase the time available for rest after working a midnight shift on the fifth day of a six-day work week from 12 to 16 hours; and allow controllers to rest during their shift when not controlling traffic;
  • The FAA should provide mandatory refresher training to controllers annually to reinforce fatigue awareness and mitigation strategies;
  • The FAA should expand operational error investigation requirements to include more detailed information on fatigue factors, such as overtime, on-the-job training and work schedule;
  • The FAA should require all facilities to establish procedures to rotate controllers through challenging and less demanding positions during each shift to mitigate the potential for fatigue.

[Test of today’s letter is below]

March 2, 2011

The Honorable Calvin L. Scovel III 

Inspector General 

Department of Transportation 

1200 New Jersey Ave. S.E. 7th Floor 

Washington, DC 20590

Dear Inspector General Scovel:

I am writing to request an immediate review of air traffic controller training duties and practices and their role in the increased number of errors at O’Hare International Airport.  The Chicago Tribune has reported that operational errors have doubled from six to 17 over the past year.  The increase in errors is troubling, and I encourage you to begin a review of the training practices at O’Hare and fatigue issues that may contribute to the increase in operational errors at the airport.

In 2007, I wrote to you requesting an investigation into staffing and fatigue issues at Chicago’s air traffic control facilities.  Your subsequent investigation resulted in several recommendations to FAA on ways it can reduce fatigue and increase safety in the workplace.

A key area of concern in your review was training fatigue.  Specifically, the Inspector General found that conducting on-the-job training can be taxing for controllers because it requires a higher level of concentration and attention to monitor a trainee’s actions.  Controllers also must quickly correct potential errors by trainees, as the instructor is ultimately responsible for maintaining minimum separation between aircraft.   Your report outlined specific recommendations to reduce these errors.  I encourage you to review FAA’s implementation of these recommendations and ensure FAA has been taking all steps necessary to reduce air traffic controller errors attributable to fatigue.

The Chicago Tribune story suggests training practices remain a serious issue at O’Hare airport.  This critical safety issue warrants an immediate investigation at O’Hare. We need to determine how the FAA can mitigate controller fatigue at our nation’s busiest, most complex airspace.  Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

Richard J. Durbin

U.S. Senator

Source: durbin.senate.gov