Three ways EUROCONTROL helps ATCOs manage stress and fatigue

13 March 2018

To ensure that the air traffic control (ATC) system functions efficiently and safely, Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs) need to perform optimally. This can be challenging in a line of work that involves stress and sleepless nights. At EUROCONTROL, drawing on our decades-long expertise and in cooperation with partners, we have approached the issues of stress, sleep and fatigue from all angles. Here are three recent offerings to help ATCOs and air navigation service providers address the challenges posed by fatigue issues, today and in the future.

Knowing is half the battle

Being well rested is essential in ensuring that ATCOs can give of their best. However, the combination of a stressful job and working in shifts may complicate the mechanism of being able to simply ‘turn off’ after work and ‘turn in’ for a good night’s sleep. Not being able to do so can cause a build-up of fatigue and an accumulation of sleep debt, both of which have a negative effect on concentration and, in consequence, performance.

In collaboration with experts in the field of sleep and fatigue management, we at EUROCONTROL have developed a booklet to change any misconceptions and to address the fatigue issue.

The booklet helps ATCOs detect early signs and symptoms of fatigue and provides strategies and tips on how to deal with sleep debt in order to regain homeostasis (body balance).

The booklet is available for download below:


Compliance is key

Fatigue is a serious threat to the safety of the ATC system. To mitigate this potential crisis on an organisational level, regulatory frameworks have been put in place to ensure that all centres have implemented detection, monitoring and management measures. EUROCONTROL provides training courses to translate legal requirements into practical and applicable actions.

Our Training Institute in Luxembourg (IANS) delivers a course to promote and ensure compliance with the new European Commission Regulation (EU) 2015/340 and its application on sleep and fatigue management training for ANSPs. It shares valuable knowledge and provides useful tools for people in charge of applying the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/373.

Learn more and register below:


Visionary research

Sleep and fatigue issues often go hand-in-hand with stress. Figuring out the causes of stress and how they can be mitigated is a challenge.

In February, EUROCONTROL took part in a validation exercise organised by the SESAR Joint Undertaking to understand the stress ATCOs face and to gauge how interaction with new technologies could affect their performance.

The STRESS project’s final validation exercise took place in Toulouse. It tested automation scenarios and the use of indexes to assess ATCO performance. The participants - 20 Ecole Nationale de l'Aviation Civile (ENAC) ATCOs and ATCO students from the EUROCONTROL Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC) – were put in a direct routing environment to test their stress levels due to high automation, transitions from low to high automation and automation failure. The analysed data will feed into guidelines for future ATC systems’ design.

This project has received funding from the SESAR Joint Undertaking under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 699381.

Coordinated by Deep Blue, the project brings together several European partners, including the French National School for Civil Aviation (ENAC), Sapienza University of Rome, Anadolu University and EUROCONTROL.

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