Human Factors And Operations Management In Air Traffic Control
The air traffic control industry is in trouble. Aging controllers, increased workload, decreased experience level and decreased time off have created and continue to create an environment ideal for a catastrophic incident. The research project showed a link between air traffic control incidents and procedural deviations, and mismanagement by the current Federal Aviation Administration. The data presented was garnered from the National Air Traffic Controller Association, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and through the utilization of Likert surveys created by the researcher. The researcher interpreted survey results to ascertain whether the surveyed air traffic controller felt that sleep deprivation was an issue, and at what points he or she felt at the highest risk for procedural errors and incidents. Research, through statistical analysis and qualitative deduction, indicated a direct correlation between the types and lengths of shifts worked, breaks between and during shifts, and air traffic control human error.
Background of the Problem
Historically, shift workers in all work settings have been challenged in their attempts to adapt to the physiological and job-related demands associated with rotating shifts. Air traffic control is certainly no exception. The difference between the challenges faced by a shift worker in air traffic control and one in the food service industry for example, is the degree to which errors are excusable and the associated consequences of those errors; i.e., risk assessment and correlating action to that assessment. The level of acceptable risk in aviation is much lower than that of many other industries due to the extreme nature of the consequences of error.
Making a filing error as a secretary resulting in not having information necessary for one?s supervisor does not carry with it the same repercussions as an error made by an air traffic controller that results in two planes colliding. The secretary may lose their job as a result of an error; conversely, the air traffic controllers may realistically go to prison as a result of theirs.
Recent news articles have brought to light the significance and severity of the problem of fatigue as it relates to the air traffic control industry. On March 23, 2006, in Chicago, Illinois, an air traffic controller cleared an Airbus A320 passenger plane to cross a runway. Fewer than 15 seconds later, the controller cleared a Boeing 737 to take off from the same runway. The pilot of the Boeing saw the Airbus and stopped before reaching the taxiway intersection, averting certain disaster. When queried by investigators, the controller stated that he had slept only four hours during a nine-hour break between shifts (NTSB, 2006). This incident illustrates what can happen when there is an air traffic controller controlling aircraft after fewer than 5 hours sleep, with inadequate relief and support structure while on duty?and this is just one such example.