Work conditions of Chicago-area air traffic controllers under investigation

A leading Democratic senator will launch an investigation into the work conditions of Chicago-area air traffic controllers, including whether there are enough of them to ensure runway safety.

"Controllers in the Chicago area are retiring at increasing rates and it is clear that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) does not have a plan for the future," Sen. Dick Durbin said in a statement.

Durbin's request comes a week after the release of a government study showing that Chicago's O'Hare International Airport had America's second-highest number of near-collisions on runways between 2001 and 2006.

Controllers in the Chicago region and elsewhere say they are weary and more error-prone after having to work repeated six-day weeks due to staffing level changes. The Federal Aviation Administration has said that staffing levels are adequate despite controllers' complaints.

FAA spokeswoman Tammy Jones said the agency would welcome an outside review of the controllers' situation.

In 2006, the National Traffic Safety Board said in a letter to the FAA that insufficient sleep may have been responsible for controllers' lapses in judgment that led to two close calls on O'Hare runways.

In Chicago, there were 13 runway incursions during the 2007 fiscal year - all but one at O'Hare, officials said after unveiling last week's report. Only two were considered serious.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova