Air traffic control (ATC) is one of the most complex and challenging professions. It consists of managing air traffic and airport operations through communicating with, tracking, and directing air vehicles while considering safety, scheduling, and environmental factors. Due to the difficult demands of the job, there are components which affect these professionals, impacting their performance. The most common hazard that air traffic controllers face is occupational stress and equipment issues.
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ATC has established an infamous reputation for being a high-stress profession. The human factor is essential in the industry, as the workers use their cognitive abilities to fulfill their responsibilities. Occupational stress directly impacts air traffic controllers, but the responsibility of their job has a direct bearing on pilots and passengers of aircraft. Surveys of air traffic control show that primary concerns include operative and organizational structures (International Labour Organization, n.d.).
They experience four types of stress factors: psychological, physiological, social, and work pressure related. These lead to devastating health consequences, even if the person practices a healthy lifestyle (Blogut, 2015). The biggest hazard in occupational stress is physical fatigue which affects the air traffic controllers both in performance and efficiency. Fatigue causes to slower reasoning, misjudgments, and inefficient response to stimuli. This is influenced by shift work which is disruptive to the workers because of rapidly rotating schedules and shift length (Tomic & Liu, 2017).
Air traffic controllers utilize complex technology to fulfill their duties. It is often outdated, inefficient, and has even basic ergonomic issues. There are no safety back-ups to the system. Meanwhile, any proposed future equipment and software increases automation, but it leads to the air traffic controller feeling disconnected and lacking control of the situation (Breselor, 2015).
The relevant occupational hazards are well known and researched, however, there are rarely any sufficient changes made until there is a critical situation. Most enacted controls to the situations are reactive. Training for air traffic controllers is detailed, but it rarely addresses the issues of the occupational stress. The administrative controls in existence simply check-up on the physical health of the employees and their competence.
There are some established limits to working hours and management of air traffic flow to prevent overload. Lack of proper engineering controls contributes to dysfunctional equipment which contributes to stress and exhaustion of these professionals. The FAA is attempting to revamp its regulations as well as introduce NextGen technology which focuses on supporting human cognitive processes. However, the industry lacks the necessary funding, so the government is seeking to privatize the air traffic industry so it can expand (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2017).
The most valuable assessment tool to determine occupational hazards is surveying air traffic controllers who undergo the daily stress of the job. Airline accidents due to ATC are rare, but the industry essentially has a zero-accident goal. To achieve that, the employees’ well-being must be supported. Performance is based on a combination of capability, motivation, and system organization (Eurocontrol, 2010).
Administrative controls that can be implemented is a change to scheduling, allowing for more stable rotations, shortened shifts, and rest (along with the implementation of necessary systems and facilities) which give an opportunity for recovery. Further, more extensive human resource services should be available. Increased training and health education specifically addressing the stress faced by employees will result in better performance (Tomic and Liu, 2017).
Technology can be improved through modernization and optimization of systems that have an ergonomic design and support the human cognition. Future technology must be implemented universally and have customization and backup systems. Any level of automation should be cooperative with the human worker to balance effectiveness with enhancing their mental capabilities. Overall there should be regulation on an international scale that is supported by legislation which promotes the industry and its human capital (Wang, Cui, & Yang, 2015).
Blogut, A. (2015). Stressing factors in aviation. Scientific Research & Education in the Air Force (AFASES). Web.
Breselor, S. (2015). Why 40-year-old tech is still running America’s air traffic control. Web.
Eurocontrol. (2010). Human performance in air traffic management safety. Web.
International Labour Organization. (n.d.). Stress prevention in air traffic control. Web.
Tomic, I. & Liu, J. (2017). Strategies to overcome fatigue in air traffic control based on stress management. The International Journal of Engineering and Science (IJES), 6(4), 48-57. Web.
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U.S. Department of Transportation. (2017). The next generation air transportation system (NextGen). Web.
Wang, X., Cui, H., & Yang, J. (2015). The occurrence mechanism of air traffic control hazards and its control method. Web.