New ATC rest rules set up possible showdown between FAA and NATCA

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Changes to minimum rest requirements for air traffic controllers announced Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration have raised the concern of serious disruptions to controller work schedules and questions over how they will be implemented under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and FAA.

The changes, based on recommendations from a report issued by the Scientific Expert Panel on Air Traffic Controller Safety, Work Hours, and Health, will require a 10-hour rest period in between all shifts, as well as a minimum of 12 hours off before a mid shift (where the majority of hours in a shift are between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.). The report’s findings, which come at a time when the agency is being criticized for not doing enough hiring amid an estimated 3,600 controller staffing shortfall, feature an additional 57 “opportunities” for the FAA to address surrounding workforce issues, work requirements and staffing. 

“This is safety leadership,” said National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Since 1967, we’ve issued numerous findings and recommendations on staffing needs, workload, scheduling practices, sleep disorder diagnosis and treatment.” She noted that NTSB human performance experts were interviewed by the expert panel, which was convened in December and consisted of three medical experts specializing in fatigue.

Yet not everyone is convinced of the changes’ immediate positive effects. Letters sent by NATCA to its members and reviewed by The Air Current show the union pushing back against the way the rule change is being implemented, with facilities given just 90 days to comply — setting up a potential showdown with the FAA. 

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