The reporter expressed a safety concern related to single person night shift in the Melbourne Centre.
The reporter advised that different controllers operating the Alpine and Tasmanian sectors have regularly been observed to be asleep at some stage during their shift while on duty. These areas are quiet overnight, which adds to the danger of them falling asleep and being fatigued.
Reporter comment: Apart from falling asleep at the console while on duty, I am particularly concerned about controllers of the Tasmanian airspace as they generally have two aircraft arriving at Hobart at 5:30 am which they are required to separate using Surveillance Arrangements for Regional Airports (SAFRA) procedures - after 6 1/2 hours without a break at a known period of low circadian rhythms.
Operator's response (Operator 1)
Airservices Australia (Airservices) appreciates the opportunity to respond to the reported safety concern regarding the use of single person night shifts in the Alpine and Tasmanian ATC groups in Melbourne Centre.
As previously reported to the ATSB, single person night shifts are not limited to the ATC groups outlined in the reporters concerns. Airservices clarifies that it is also used in Brisbane Centre and a number of remote towers and Terminal Control Units (TCU's) as well as other operational roles such as systems supervisors and flight data co-ordinators.
Airservices clarifies that a controller on a single person night shift is not required to work for 6.5 hours without a break, as indicated by the reporter. Airservices reiterates that Melbourne Centre operates in a shared operations environment with twenty-four-hour supervision and short break arrangements. All night shift staff are located in the same room and at least three staff members are available in each aisle to assist with the identification of controller fatigue and provide short term support if required. Controllers operating on single person night shifts are offered breaks by controllers on dual staff night shifts and by the systems supervisor at certain times during the shift to minimise the likelihood of a controller becoming fatigued.
Airservices continues to implement work schedules designed on a solid understanding of fatigue and the science of sleep. In addition, rosters for ATC incorporate work/life balance and console/staffing requirements. Staffing arrangements on night shift duties are determined by controller workload taking into consideration console usage, known traffic patterns and actual traffic captures highlighting the maximum and minimum numbers of aircraft in a given airspace. The workload and console usage is also assessed annually to ensure it continues to be appropriate with the ongoing operational demands.
As mentioned in our previous response to a similar concern, Airservices has reviewed the practice of single person night shifts at Melbourne Centre. It has been confirmed that the established processes and systems for night shift rostering/staffing and fatigue management are appropriately followed in determining and monitoring the night shift arrangements.
Since our previous response, Airservices has developed and published educational material about effective strategies to prepare for a night shift for controllers (refer to attachment 1).
Airservices is planning to develop further educational material which will be included in future editions of Airservices internal ATC magazine.
Regulator's response (Regulator 1)
CASA has reviewed the REPCON and notes that it is similar in nature to previous REPCON AR201600052. CASA has included these concerns as part of the ongoing CASR Part 172 surveillance program.