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The FAA will convene a new panel to address air traffic controller fatigue following repeated close calls, sources say

By Pete Muntean, CNN

(CNN) — The Federal Aviation Administration is taking a new step to address its overworked and chronically understaffed air traffic controller corps, CNN has learned.

The agency is expected to announce this week that it is convening a special panel to review the impact and safety risks of on-the-job fatigue facing air traffic controllers, two sources familiar with the announcement said. The FAA declined to comment.

The move follows a string of near-collisions this year involving commercial flights on or near the runways of major airports. Short-staffed air traffic control towers was among the issues cited in a report last month from an expert panel the FAA assembled to address the close calls.

In a near-collision at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas in February, the air traffic controller involved was working an overtime shift during a six-day workweek, according to investigative findings released last month by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Other near-collisions were reported this year across the US, including in Boston, Honolulu, New York, Burbank, California; Sarasota, Florida; and at Reagan National Airport outside Washington, DC.

The FAA has been repeatedly criticized for not addressing the issue of air traffic controller staffing more aggressively with the agency facing a shortage of more than 3,000 controllers.

The head of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association labor union said last month the FAA’s hiring efforts produced only six new controllers in the past year.

“The fundamental cause of controller fatigue is the shortage of certified professional controllers,” the union said in a statement to CNN. “The answer to prolonged controller fatigue is a long-term commitment to hiring and training of air traffic controllers.”

A 2015 NASA study of more than 3,200 air traffic controllers found two in 10 made significant on-the-job errors in the previous year, which most controllers blamed on fatigue. About one third of controllers queried characterized fatigue as a “high” or “extreme” safety risk.

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