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Fatigue cited as ‘urgent’ safety concern for LAX

A University of Southern California aviation safety specialist has cited air-traffic controller fatigue as one of the most pressing safety issues affecting Los Angeles Airport (LAX).

With 20 years experience researching human factors in aviation safety, Professor Najmedin Meshkati, of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering pointed to controller fatigue as a widespread problem requiring urgent address.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Professor Meshkati claimed; “There are strong indications that our air traffic controllers nationwide are increasingly suffering from fatigue’.

“This critical issue prompted the National Transportation Safety Board to update its ‘Most Wanted List’ of safety improvements and add three safety recommendations on air traffic controller fatigue to the existing aviation issue area that addresses human fatigue.”

Professor Meshkati was responding to an earlier Times piece suggesting that safety issues at LAX, such as ‘runway incursions’, could be remedied by reconfiguring an out-of-date airfield.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines a runway incursion as; “Any occurrence at an aerodrome involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and take-off of aircraft”. While Professor Meshkati agreed that airfield reconfiguration would help to lessen the risk of these events, he hastened to add that human factors were by far the “most important contributor” to the problem.

In support of this, he cited a recent nationwide runway safety study by the US Government Accountability Office, which held that 85 percent of runway incursions occurring during the 2007 financial year were causally related to pilot and controller errors.

Furthermore, with incursions categorised according to levels of seriousness, in terms of the number of occurrences of the two most serious incursion categories, LAX has the worst record over the period running from 2001 to August 2008. It also comes second, behind Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, in the total number of incidences of the remaining incursion types.

By way of a solution for LAX, Professor Meshkati recommended a re-evaluation of controller fatigue, as well as controller workload, staffing and equipment adequacy.

Highlighting the urgency required, he implored the Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, to instigate an independent commission into the problems:

“We cannot wait for federal agencies to conduct another protracted study and come up with recommendations.”

source: Los Angeles Times