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FAA will require more rest time for air traffic controllers amid fatigue concerns

An American Airlines Airbus A319 airplane takes off past the air traffic control tower at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, January 11, 2023

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday said the agency will increase the required amount of rest time for air traffic controllers in response to concerns over fatigue amid a staffing shortage.

The changes, which would take effect within 90 days, would require controllers to have at least 10 hours of rest between shifts, up from nine hours, and 12 hours of rest before an overnight shift.

“In my first few months at the helm of the FAA, I toured air traffic control facilities around the country — and heard concerns about schedules that do not always allow controllers to get enough rest,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a statement. “With the safety of our controllers and national airspace always top of mind for FAA, I took this very seriously — and we’re taking action.”

The changes come as pressure on the FAA grows to improve air travel safety amid a spate of close calls at airports, as well as mechanical problems at some airlines and production problems at Boeing.

A shortfall of air traffic controllers, made worse by a pause in hiring during the Covid-19 pandemic, has led to forced overtime and packed schedules for staff at some facilities. The agency hired 1,500 controllers last year and plans to hire 1,800 this year. Air traffic controllers in the U.S. are required to retire at age 56.

The announcement came alongside an FAA-ordered report on air traffic controller fatigue, which recommended the new rest requirements.

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