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Sleeping air-traffic controllers show that fatigue issue still plagues FAA

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The decision to add an additional controller to 27 airports that currently have just one controller on the overnight shift was praised by the Business Travel Coalition, a passenger rights group.

“There should always be two controllers on duty at any given time," Kevin Mitchel, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, writes in an email. "It is a stressful job and like pilots, fatigue causes them to fall asleep as well."

In fact, the issue of fatigue has been a safety concern for air travel and other forms of transportation for decades.

"The NTSB has a most-wanted list of safety improvements,” says Mark Rosekind, a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board. “Fatigue has been one of the items on that list since it was first created in 1990. It’s been in our focus for over 20 years.”

Dr. Rosekind, a clinical psychologist who has studied sleep for NASA, says worker performance drops 30 percent at night.

“The myth is that the more nights you work, the more your body adjusts to the night work," Rosekind says. “Physiologically, your internal clock does not adjust."

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