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An Englishman In New York: Hot Jobs With The FAA

If you are going on a commercial flight in the USA you should delay reading David Thomasesson's latest column until your feet are back on the ground.

In the US, unemployment is finally beginning to fall. And with only four applicants for each job; down from five for most of 2010 and six at the end of 2008, it appears that the latest “must-have” job is that of Air Traffic Controller (ATC) with the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA – known in the industry as Forget About the Aircraft).

Unbeknownst to the flying public these jobs have terrific perks not previously appreciated, not least being the well over $100k salaries. Qualified slackers all over the country are signing up for training sessions to become an ATC (“Acting Tired Constantly”). A sleepwalker for the FAA is encouraging potential candidates to attend all night parties and online poker sessions for a good few days before signing on to the new positions; thus ensuring that applicants are fighting fit at the start of training. Competition is expected to be fierce. Staying awake at the ’scope longer than it takes to send a few tweets, text some OMG’s and LMFAO’s followed by a graphic description of your last bowel movement will be seen as brown-nosing and not in the spirit of the job description.

When questioned, the ATC’s union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA – Nearly Always Tired and Caught Asleep) representative rejected allegations that ATC’s were sleeping on the job, claiming instead that long hours required their members to “rest their eyes” occasionally. Whilst acknowledging that some members sometimes appear to be asleep, in fact they were just blinking very slowly. Asked about the phones ringing and the pilot radio messages ignored, the union rep. admitted that blinking very slowly required massive concentration and their members were not equipped to cope with such demands on their time. We are proposing that ATC’s should take the phone off the hook and leave the radios on mute, to assist in achieving a stress-free shift. After all, pilots are paid more than we are, so Mr. Big Shot at the pointy end can earn his stripes. He should be alright if we leave the runway lights on, don’t you think?

Apparently union rules require work-breaks every two hours, resulting in IDB, formerly known as interrupted deep blinking, a newly discovered syndrome designed by unscrupulous drug companies seeking to add yet more acronyms to the already crowded Physicians’ Desk Reference book (PDR if you hadn’t already guessed). IDB could prevent workers from performing at their peak during a work-break.

The union further reiterated that their members are exceedingly stressed right now and this is affecting their personal lives. So the ATC Union is advising the public to avoid traveling at the busiest times of the day which happens to be shift changes, normally around 7am and 7pm,. Or whatever time Sleepy wakes up in the rest-room. Physically exhausted from working two hour off and one hour on, the night shift is too groggy to remember exactly how far down the runway Delta 1203 Heavy was, and how close he was to that little, itty-bitty commuter jet trying to make a run for it across Delta’s take-off roll. Coupled with incoming sleep-deprived and stressed out ATC’s, mistakes are inevitable but they should get everything sorted within the hour or two, or three. Using all the technology at their disposal, actually little strips of paper but don’t tell anyone, our members are likely to get it right most of the time. Now, will someone shut that window? Oh dear, now we really have a problem.

This shows that what’s needed are more ATC’s, more money, and more training. Our members take their responsibilities very seriously, and he laughed off suggestions that dogs be trained to bark when an ATC shows signs of blinking very slowly, saying it’s not caninely possible to find one that won’t sleep at night. In any case, he said, who will be watching the dog?

Apparently catching a few zzz’s is unusual, but not unheard of according to current and retired controllers interviewed by the Associated Press. What is more common is pre-meditated napping. For example, on the "midnight" shift (10 pm to 6 am), one controller will work two positions while the other one sleeps. Such arrangements allow controllers to sleep as much as three or four hours out of an eight-hour shift, they said. Yes, allowing them to be suitably wide awake and fresh to go home, mow the lawn, watch TV, and sign on for the next night’s shift ready for bed!

Bill Voss, a former controller and president of the Flight Safety Foundation said "We could have a far better system if we just admitted what is going on and put some structure around it." We’ll soon be ordering a couple of bunk beds, coffee-machine and a microwave for the rest-room. FAA regulations forbid sleeping at work, even during breaks, but at most air traffic facilities the sleeping swaps are tolerated as long as they don't affect safety, controllers said. Ah yes, and how do you know safety might be affected if you are fast asleep. To which the controller replied “I don’t know, I’ll have to sleep on that one.”

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Do visit David's Web site http://www.britoninnewyork.com/

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