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Researcher addresses air traffic control sleep topic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Gregory Belenky, a physican and director of the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University, testified before Congress Tuesday, June 24, about how naps may be the best tool air traffic controllers can use to battle fatigue.
 
Belenky was one of four experts called to testify before the U.S. Senate Aviation, Operations, Safety and Security subcommittee of the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee. Recent reports of air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job further highlight a potential problem with air traffic controller fatigue.
 
On-shift napping
“Air traffic controllers falling asleep inadvertently, or deliberately napping on-shift, points to a problem with fatigue,” but it also may point to a solution to the fatigue problem: on-shift napping, Belenky said. “Scientific study in this area would certainly illuminate the question of what is the most effective fatigue remedy in air traffic control operations.”
 
Fatigue and performance
Writing in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, Belenky and his colleagues determined that in the crash of a 2006 Lexington, Ky. commuter flight the air traffic controller was fatigued when he failed to detect that the plane was on the wrong runway and cleared it for takeoff.
 
“To my way of thinking, all options need to be on the table,” Belenky said.
 
Other testimony
Also providing testimony regarding sleep, fatigue and performance by air traffic controllers will be: Randolph “Randy” Babbitt, administrator, Federal Aviation Administration; Calvin L. Scovel III, inspector general, U.S. Department of Transportation; and Paul Rinaldi, president, National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
 
29 years experience
Belenkey’s experience in sleep and performance issues is rooted in 29 years of active duty service in the U.S. Army, where he developed systems to manage sleep and sustain performance in military operations.
 
The challenge of safer, sleep-friendly scheduling extends to all manner of around-the-clock operations, including hospitals, policing, the military, mining and energy generation.
 
Data-based schedules
Belenky said most operators use rule-based schedules for staffing. But research suggests that real-time data collection might lead the way to more flexible schedules “based on how much sleep people have actually obtained.”

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