Artículos técnicos e investigación,  Controladores aéreos,  Portada,  Seguridad Aérea

Fatiga del controlador aéreo, seguridad y accidentes

El real decreto-ley 1/2010 aprobado por el consejo de ministros del día 5 de febero de 2010, introduce cambios drásticos en el trabajo de los controladores de la circulación aérea, entre ellos está el cambio en el régimen de actividad y trabajo del colectivo:

Artículo 3. Tiempo de actividad y descanso de los controladores civiles de tránsito aéreo.

Para garantizar la prestación segura de los servicios de tránsito aéreo y el necesario descanso de los controladores civiles de tránsito aéreo se dispone lo siguiente:

1. La jornada a turnos tendrá una duración no superior a doce horas por servicio.

2. El número de horas extraordinarias no será superior a ochenta al año, de conformidad con lo establecido en el Estatuto de los Trabajadores.

3. El tiempo de descanso durante la jornada será de un veinticinco por ciento del tiempo de duración de la jornada diurna y de un treinta y tres por ciento de la duración de la jornada nocturna. No obstante, en las torres de control monoposición los controladores tendrán un descanso de una hora por servicio.

Existen cientos de referencias en revistas científicas, artículos de prensa y recomendaciones de seguridad internacionales sobre la FATIGA DEL CONTROLADOR, y su incidencia directa en la SEGURIDAD:

  • Managing Shiftwork in European ATM, Eurocontrol 14/04/2006

Contiene una excelente descripción del trabajo a turnos, su diseño, su aplicación y sus inconvenientes.

Night Shifts Due to the body clock and the activation level during the day respectively the employees’ motivation and capability to work during the night are restricted fundamentally. Folkard and Tucker (2003) report a significantly lower efficiency and performance between 7 pm and 7 am (see also Chapter 5.2.3). The reduced performance between midnight and 6 am stands out especially. During this time, also ATCOs reported the most fatigue, stress, and therefore performance and health problems (Vogt & Kastner, 2002; see also Chapter 6.2.3).

Whether this specific course of performance affects safety, is statistically difficult to prove because of the specific work requirements and the reduced staff during the night. Frequently, different and sometimes less risky tasks are performed during the night e.g. off-line gate allocating when the airport is closed (for this example see also Chapter 6.5). Moreover, the number of staff is often reduced. Yet, some findings indicate a connection.

  • Shiftwork practices study- ATM and related industries, Eurocontrol 14/04/2006

This document presents the study on shiftwork practices both in Air Traffic Management (ATM) and non-ATM industries. The purpose of the study was to identify (best) practices that can help to define common solutions for managing shiftwork in European ATM. This document is the second of the “Managing Shiftwork in European ATM (MSEA)” Project, which was conducted by EUROCONTROL within the EATM Human Factors Domain as part of the Human Performance and Training Enhancement (HPTE) Planning and Feasibility. Shiftwork practices were collected from the areas of international ATM, and from the medical, police and airline industries. The findings were rich and are likely to provide valuable input to the process of developing shiftwork solutions for European ATM.

  • Fatigue and Sleep Managemente- Eurocontrol

Más que un document, es una guía realizada para que cada una de las personas que realizan una actividad a turnos pueda desarrollar una estrategia para minimizar sus efectos

In the literature on air traffic control some attention has focussed on how

shift work and work schedules result in fatigue, and on how they affect

performance, sleep, mood, and health. (15)

Authors investigating fatigue among ATCOs find that fatigue related to

shift work is twofold: (15)

1) ATCOs working at night are at the lowest point in their circadian

rhythms, which results in fatigue, sleepiness, and performance


2) Shift schedules often create sleep debt, which reduces alertness and

performance, particularly during night shifts and at the beginning of

early morning shifts.

The sleepiness and fatigue reported by ATCOs can be attributed to the

circadian trough occurring at night, but also to sleep deprivation and its

associated sleep debt. (15)

For the shift worker, night shifts entail sleeping during the day. Again,

because of circadian rhythms, and also because of the diurnal orientation

of social life, ATCOs working at night get the shortest amount and poorest

quality of sleep. (15)

Also, the quality of sleep ATCOs get before a night shift is poor compared

to sleep before a day or evening shift, according to subjective reports of

ATCOs and results obtained with sleep lab measures. (15)

Fatigue, sleepiness, circadian trough, sleep deprivation, low traffic load,

and low lighting levels have been linked as factors contributing to

decreased performance and vigilance during night shifts in ATM. (15)

  • CAP 670 Air Traffic Services Safety Requirements-Civil Aviation Authority UK

Interesante la parte D del mismo, dedicado a Human resources.

  • The role of shiftwork and fatigue in Air Traffic Control Operational errors and incidents

FAA- January 1999

En este documento se hace un análisis de incidentes notificados, en el que se concluye que la fatiga ha sido un factor determinante.

“Despite the limitations of the reports examined from the ASRS database, it was apparent tha fatigue was reported as a performance-impairing factor affecting personnel at all times of the day, in all types of operation, and manifested itself in a variety of anomalies in ATC operations. These preliminary findings support the need for further investigation into how sleep and circadian factors affect controller performance”.

  • Occupational stress and stress prevention in air traffic control

Universidad de Verona, Italia

Documento en el que se hace un exhaustivo análisis de los factores que provocan el stress del ATC, y aquellos que inciden en su desempeño laboral

4.3 Arrangement of shift schedules according to psycho-physiological

and social criteria

Shift work, in particular night work, is a further stress factor for the ATCs due to its

negative effects on various aspects of their lives, in particular as concerns:

(a) disturbances of the normal biological rhythms, beginning with the sleep/wake cycle;


16 A.Wedderburn: Guidelines for shiftworkers, Bulletin of European Shiftwork Topics (BEST) No. 3 (Dublin,

European Foundation for the Improvement of Living andWorking Conditions, 1991); and P. Knauth: “The design of shift systems”, in Ergonomics, Vol. 36, Nos. 1/3, 1993, pp. 15-28.

Occupational stress and stress prevention in air traffic control

(b) changes in work performance and efficiency over the 24-hour period, with consequent

errors and accidents as potential outcomes;

(c) negative effects on health and well-being, including troubles with the digestive function

(disturbances of appetite, gastro duodenitis, colitis, peptic ulcers), nervous system(sleep

deficit, anxiety, depression) and cardiovascular systems (ischemic heart diseases);

(d) social problems, resulting fromdifficulties inmaintaining the usual relationships both at

the family and social levels, with consequent negative influences on marital relations,children’s education and social contacts.

Informe accidente CRJ200 COMAIR

En el informe se establece cómo una de las causas del accidente la fatiga del controlador de servicio, por falta de horas de sueño.


Se han recopilado una serie de noticias de prensa y otros medios de comunicación, en la que se hace una relación directa entre la fatiga del controlador y los incidentes/accidentes ocurridos:

Fatigue Hits Air Traffic Control Towers

by Mike Hall, Apr 12, 2007

Two developments this week illustrate how serious is the understaffing in the nation’s air traffic control towers. One is an in-depth study by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the other involves a basic bathroom break.

(We’ve reported several times on the staffing crisis at the Federal Aviation Administration [FAA]. Click here, here, here and here for recent posts.)

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) says controllers are stretched so thin they are working far too much overtime, many towers are beyond understaffed and don’t even meet FAA guidelines and standard schedules force many controllers to follow a day shift with an overnight shift just nine hours later.

The staffing problems are made worse by the FAA’s cut in staffing over the past several years and its implementation of new work rules after it unilaterally imposed a contract on NATCA last year.

This week, the NTSB published a report on aviation safety. It included recommendations to the FAA on controller rest, sleep and fatigue issues. The NTSB, in a letter to the FAA and NATCA President Patrick Forrey, says there:

…is clear and compelling evidence that controllers are sometimes operating in a state of fatigue because of their work schedules….The Safety Board is concerned that because of lack of FAA action on this issue, controllers frequently operate in a fatigued state and that action needed now must go beyond simple evaluations….

The FAA should work with NATCA to reduce the potential for controller fatigue by revising controller work scheduling policies and practices to provide rest periods that are long enough for controllers to obtain sufficient restorative sleep and by modifying shift rotations to minimize disrupted sleep patterns, accumulation of sleep debt and decreased cognitive function.

NATCA Communications Director Doug Church says:

Controllers are absolutely more tired than they ever have been and it’s because they are forced to work overtime. This is an understaffed system, and the FAA is lying when it says it’s not.

Speaking of truthfulness: Church says in response to the NTSB recommendations, the FAA claimed controllers’ schedules are negotiated with NATCA and changes must be approved by employees.

This has not been the case since the FAA imposed work rules on the controllers unilaterally in September. The FAA sought to impose management rights: one of them was the ability to control schedules and act without input from controllers and without anything resembling a “negotiation.”

The second incident, the bathroom break, illustrates what can happen in towers when there are not enough controllers, says Church.

In Manchester, N.H., the lone controller certified to handle take offs and landings had to take a bathroom break nearly three hours and 60 takeoffs and landings into his shift. The one person left in the tower was a trainee.

As a result, two airliners were forced to circle for 18 minutes and a plane carrying a set of human lungs for transplant had to delay its takeoff for 10 minutes. Before he left, the controller followed procedures, notifying the FAA’s Boston consolidated terminal radar approach system that he was taking an unscheduled break and Boston monitored the circling airliners. Says Church:

There should never be one person in the tower because it’s not safe. It’s just added proof that the system is stretched to its limits, and these are the type of things that are happening.

DOT IG: Air Traffic Controller Fatigue Worsened By FAA Practices At Key Facilities

Inadequate staff and short rest times between shifts could be worsening air traffic controller fatigue at Chicago’s three air traffic facilities, according to a new Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General (IG) report. The IG report examines the issue of controller fatigue at three sites—Chicago O’Hare International Airport Air Traffic Control Tower, Chicago Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility and Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center, among the busiest in the country. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) management at all three sites run schedules giving controllers less than 10 hours between shifts, limiting time for needed rest, the report said. The report also noted that although staffing levels and practices fall within the FAA’s acceptable range, agency guidelines do not account for a high ratio of trainees to controllers which could be increasing controller fatigue. The report also noted that none of the Chicago facilities offered written guidance on how often or when controllers should rotate through more difficult positions. The IG report recommended that the FAA should reevaluate the staffing ranges at its Chicago facilities, once an ongoing O’Hare Modernization Program is fully implemented, and should increase the minimum rest period between shifts. Also, the FAA should mandate yearly refresher training courses for controllers on how to reduce fatigue. “We often take for granted the enormous effort it takes to take off, manage and land the thousands of planes that enter Chicago’s airspace on a given day,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill said in a July 2 statement. “I urge the FAA to implement the report’s recommendations in Chicago and around the country as swiftly as possible.” To see more, go to: or

Report: Controller Fatigue Threatens Air Safety

Apr 17, 2007 12:00 AM, By Katherine Torres

A new published report on aviation safety by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concludes that fatigue among air traffic controllers contributed to one fatal accident last year and at



In a letter addressed to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Marion Blakey and National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President Patrick Forey, NTSB President Mark Rosenker stated that rapid rotation and short rest periods are the likely reasons why controllers report sleeping an average of just 6 hours before day shifts and 2 hours before midnight shifts, highlighting that “controller fatigue decreases aviation safety.”

Rosenker also noted that FAA policies and controllers’ off-duty habits also may be culprits and urged changes in controller scheduling policies and practices, as well as educating the controller work force on shift work, its effects on performance and fatigue management.

Controller Fatigue Played Role in Fatal Crash

The letter pointed to the Comair flight crash in August that killed 49 people and left one person seriously injured in Lexington, Ky. The reason for the accident, according to investigators, was because the controller had cleared the plane for takeoff and the flight crew mistakenly taxied onto the wrong runway. Because the controller was running on 2 hours of sleep, he was not vigilant enough to see the plane’s mistake.

“Controllers are sometimes operating in a state of fatigue because of their work schedules and poorly managed utilization of their rest periods between shifts, and that fatigue has contributed to controller errors,” Rosenker said.

The board urged FAA and NATCA to revise work schedules “to provide rest periods that are long enough for controllers to obtain sufficient restorative sleep” and to modify shift rotations “to minimize disrupted sleep patterns.”

FAA: Employees Should Rest Before Work

FAA spokesman Les Dorr told that the agency will look at NTSB’s recommendations very closely as well as FAA’s current policies and will respond directly to the agency within 90 days. However, he emphasized that this “was one of the safest periods of aviation history.”

In addition, Dorr maintained that the air traffic controllers’ schedules were devised in conjunction with the unions representing the controllers at each of facilities under FAA regulations of requiring 8 hours between shifts.

“We can’t govern what employees do on their own time,” Dorr said. “We expect them to be responsible and rested before they report to work.”

NATCA Communications Director Doug Church disagreed and retorted that “controllers are absolutely more tired than they have ever been.”

“This is an understaffed system and the FAA is lying when it says it’s not,” NATCA said.

Some of the recommendations NTSB made to FAA and to NATCA include:

  • Revise controller work-scheduling policies and practices to provide rest periods long enough for controllers to obtain sufficient sleep.
  • Develop a fatigue awareness and countermeasures training program for controllers and personnel involved in the devising controllers’ schedules.

Air Traffic Controllers Exhausted, Overworked Under Bush’s FAA

by Mike Hall, Jun 1, 2008

Summer air travel season is just getting under way, but in the nation’s control towers and radar facilities, a worsening staff shortage and the effects of fatigue with fewer air traffic controllers working longer shifts could pose a major problem, warns a new video from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA).

The video, “When You Lose Controllers, You Lose Control,” asks:

…What happens when we’re exhausted and stretched to the limit? Nearly one-fifth of us have left since 2006, leaving towers dangerously short-staffed, with fewer experienced controllers being forced to work overtime. Even the National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] warns the results could be catastrophic, but the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] still won’t listen.

The worsening staffing crisis, says NATCA, is the direct result of the FAA’s imposition of harsh work and pay rules that have driven the ranks of fully trained and certified controllers down to their lowest levels since 1992.

Since the work rules were imposed, more than 2,600 controllers have left their jobs—nearly 20 percent of the workforce and even the FAA predicts hundreds more controllers will leave before the end of the current fiscal year. The exodus likely will be even worse, according to NATCA, because the FAA has consistently underestimated the attrition rate.

With fewer controllers, those remaining are forced to work overtime hours with fewer and shorter breaks and decreased amount of time between shifts. Many are working six-day weeks.

Controller fatigue has been well-chronicled, including reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the NTSB. Just in the past few weeks controller fatigue has been cited for an increase in incidents—including cases of planes getting to close to each other in the air and on the ground—in Atlanta, Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

But the FAA has ignored the warnings says NATCA, and now may even add to the problem: The agency is considering canceling vacation time for controllers as a way to address short-staffing, a move that in turn will deprive controllers of the breaks they desperately need away from their grueling job.

Says NATCA President Patrick Forrey:

There are fewer eyes watching the skies and runways throughout the country, and those that remain are suffering from fatigue.

Left with understaffed facilities, management is faced with two choices for handling the ever-increasing volume of air traffic: Call in overtime or work short-staffed. Both of these options—which are often used in tandem—create fatigue among air traffic controllers. Regular use of overtime limits a controller’s ability to recover from work-related stress and fatigue, while short-staffing increases workload.

The union has repeatedly called for a resumption of contract talks with the FAA to address the staffing crisis, controller fatigue and other vital issues, but the Bush administration’s FAA has rebuffed every offer. A House passed FAA reauthorization bill would require the agency to go back to the table with NATCA, but the Senate has yet to act.

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