FAA delaying start of new US air traffic control rest requirements

Commercial airlones depart San Diego , California

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday it was delaying requirements for air traffic controllers to get at least 10 hours off between shifts and 12 hours off before a midnight shift as it grapples with a staffing shortage.

The new rules had been put in place after an independent review of fatigue issues called for new minimum rest periods. Those had been due to start by mid-July, but have been delayed due to discussions between the FAA and a union representing controllers.

The FAA is struggling to address a persistent shortage of air traffic controllers and a series of near-miss incidents, including some reported to be the result of controller errors.

Under current rules, controllers handling active airplanes must get an eight or nine-hour break between shifts in most instances.

FAA Air Traffic Organization Chief Operating Officer Timothy Arel said the move to require more hours off between shifts would be delayed as the agency holds discussions with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) union. The hope is to come to a joint agreement on new rest periods for the 2025 schedule "or sooner where feasible," Arel said, adding "fatigue is no exception and must be taken seriously."

A NATCA spokesperson said the union was not consulted in advance of the FAA determination regarding time off from duty before all shifts. "We have asked for a briefing on the scientific materials and data relied upon in the FAA's decision," the union said.

NATCA added it would work with the FAA "to review the data and attempt to collaboratively develop requirements to provide sufficient time off-duty before all shifts."

At several facilities, controllers are working mandatory overtime and six-day work weeks to cover shortages. The FAA agency is about 3,000 controllers behind staffing targets and the agency said last autumn it had about 10,700 certified controllers - about the same as a year earlier.

President Joe Biden has sought funding to hire 2,000 controllers this year.

FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker had commissioned an independent panel to assess the risks of controller fatigue, which last month called for mandatory rest periods after raising "serious concerns."

The FAA said on Wednesday "the science is clear that fatigue can impair the ability to perform safety-related operational duties." The agency said it would ensure current rest requirements were followed.


Separately, Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and other lawmakers Tuesday urged the FAA to rescind plans to force 17 air traffic controllers to move from New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) to Philadelphia.

The FAA said in March it would relocate control of the Newark, New Jersey, airspace area to Philadelphia to address staffing and congested New York City area traffic by June 30.

"We are shocked that the FAA would once again take the unwarranted step of reassigning controllers against their will, thereby jeopardizing existing staffing levels, weakening public safety, and unduly disrupting the lives of our valuable air traffic controllers," the lawmakers said.

The FAA declined to comment on the letter.

New York TRACON is one of the busiest U.S. facilities overseeing among the most complex airspace in the country.

The FAA extended cuts to minimum flight requirements at New York City-area airports through October because of staffing issues, and major airlines last month asked for them to be extended through October 2025.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Sonali Paul and Jamie Freed)