The Statutory Limitation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Hours. GATCO working paper 1977 and a Transmit article on SRATCOH

Only in the 1970s was serious consideration given to the statutory limitation of controller hours. GATCO  was a proponent of the idea, being aware that some controllers were working excessive hours and that others worked watch systems that could induce fatigue due to the shift pattern. The Guild’s Professional Committee, under its Director Peter Wilde, produced a working paper that proved to be a catalyst in the developing debate on Controller Hours. Peter has kindly sent me a copy of the paper to put on line and hopefully it will prompt more on the events that led to the eventual introduction of statutory hours limitation for ATCOs


The investigation into the desirability of statutory working hours was given to a body called the Sawyer Committee. Martyn Cooper, a Guild member and an ATCO at Luton, was a member. Martyn describes it as

“….a most interesting experience, not least because (basically) everything that Pete Wilde’s GATCO paper set out was eventually endorsed by the Committee in its recommendations.  Whilst the Guild’s proposals were based on common sense and practical knowledge, the Sawyer Committee took a more scientific analysis, seeking empirical evidence from other occupations that had working hours limitations, as well as detailed consideration of the effects of sleep patterns, effects of shift working and the best arrangements for the organisation and implementation of working rotas (M, A, N combinations).  A lot of useful evidence came from a Professor working with Sussex University.  We also conducted a number of visits to ATC Units to assess staffing, workload and shift working patterns. 

Surprisingly (perhaps), the CAA ATSSD adopted the recommendations with only some slight modifications regarding overtime, extra duties, etc.  This was further enhanced with the rules for attending work in a ‘fit condition’ and relieving yourself from duty if you felt unwell.  These were important additions and I think gave ATC a pretty reinforced working structure that protected controllers and management alike.  Obviously, management and controllers lost their flexibility to work when they wanted and this undoubtedly caused some problems in the beginning, because not all ATC Units were staffed adequately.  At quite a few smaller airfields, SATCOs used to supplement the rostering to give relief breaks or stand in when staff went ill.  SRATCOH obviously impinged on this flexibility, especially when the duty period also took into account office duty hours, too.   

 At the first meeting of the Sawyer Committee, when the objectives, process and procedures were being laid out, the Guild’s paper was warmly welcomed; inasmuch as it was the first piece of evidential documentation available and provided an appropriate platform to build the Committee’s recommendations. Given that he had virtually no knowledge of ATC, let alone the complexities of working hours and the impact of rest and shift working, Martyn thinks David Sawyer did an incredibly good job.  He personally wrote up the draft report (subject to corrections and modifications from the rest of us) and the fact that the CAA accepted our recommendations, confirms this”.

We’ll see if we can find and publish the two sets of regulations that evolved out of this work, the Committee for the Regulation of ATCOs’ Operating Hours – CRATCOH report and the later  Schedule for the Regulation of ATCOs’ Operating Hours  – SRATCOH regulations.

Until we find them, here is a download of the three page article from Transmit, written by Mike Burlyn, that give an oversight of the proposals.

SRATCOH article from Transmit

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