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FAA proposes more sleep to keep controllers awake

Greig Reid an air traffic controller looks from the air traffic control tower.

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Today, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration will launch yet another proposal to stop air traffic controllers from falling asleep on the job. That's after the latest incident of a controller dozing off. And at least a half-dozen times something like that's happened this year.

Marketplace's Janet Babin is with us live and has more. Good morning, Janet.

JANET BABIN: Good morning Steve.

CHIOTAKIS: So, how does the government plan to cut down on the napping?

BABIN: Well, it ordered longer mandatory rest periods for all controllers. So now has to be nine hours between shifts, instead of eight. And this extra hour is somehow meant to help prevent controllers from sleeping.

CHIOTAKIS: On the graveyard shift. Is one hour really going to make that much of a difference?

BABIN: You know, I posed that question to Michael Goldfarb, a former FAA chief of staff. He's now an aviation consultant. And while he commended the FAA's intentions here, he doesn't expect this will do much good.

MICHAEL GOLDFARB: I think it's too little too late in this case. They're really playing catchup. I'm not sure that hour will make a difference for what is essentially chronically understaffed facilities.

CHIOTAKIS: So then Janet, how do you solve that? Especially with budget concerns?

BABIN: Well, more staffing, Goldfarb says. You know, traditionally Steve this was a good job to get, with lots of competition. But the starting salary has been cut back in recent years -- there are fewer perks and incentives to get into the job. Goldfarb says the FAA got to find a way to make air traffic control jobs more attractive again. But, in the current budget climate, the FAA's probably going ot have to find a way to do that without any more money. In fact the house republicans recently called for scaling back the FAA budget to 2008 levels.

CHIOTAKIS: All right. Marketplace's Janet Babin. Janet thanks.

BABIN: Thank you.

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