FAA Shift Work and Schedules.

I saw this on another forum posted by "Seven" I think from ZTL... didn't see anyone copy it over here on jetcareers though ( utahaviator & thesoonerkid, looking at ya'll) unless I missed it somewhere.... //PLEASE DELETE IF ALREADY POSTED//

FAA Shift Work and Schedules.

Note: The intent of this post is to offer those who seek FAA employment a basic understanding of shift work and schedules at MOST ATC facilities. The shift work and schedules described below are commonplace at all ARTCC facilities. Most of the variation within the FAA occurs at the Terminal level, especially facilities ATC-10 and below. If you have a question about a specific Terminal facility, then post a question on this forum asking for an opinion from someone that works there. If you want to contribute to this post by describing your facilities unique shift work or schedule, then you are welcome to do so. Please do not flame my post if you disagree or wish to make corrections. Give me the courtesy and respect that I would extend to you by sending me a personal message to express your disagreements, corrections, additions, or compliments. As always if you find this post useful, please rate it accordingly.

So you want to be an Air Traffic Controller for the FAA, but you’ve heard a lot of horror stories about shifts and scheduling and you want to know more (hopefully you do, otherwise I’ve wasted my time).

RDO’s (Regular Days Off). Aircraft fly seven days a week, 365 days a year. Someone has to provide separation, issue safety alerts, and expedite the flow of traffic. If you’re an air traffic controller, then that someone is you. The moment you sign up for this job, you agree to abandon the standard Monday through Friday work week that you’ve grown accustomed to. The same work week that starts every morning around 8:00am and ends around 5:00pm. Your weekends will never be the same again…literally. In fact, your weekend will even have a new name, RDO (Regular Days Off). Your favorite Saturday/Sunday weekend will become a Monday/Tuesday RDO, or Wednesday/Thursday RDO. The possibilities are endless…well…not quite…there are seven RDO possibilities. So how do know or choose which RDO you will have at your new facility? Read on…

LEAVE (a.k.a. paid-time-off). Leave falls into three categories; annual leave, sick leave, and leave-without-pay. Annual and sick leave are earned every two weeks. As a new hire without military or government work experience you will earn 4 hours of annual leave and 4 hours of sick leave every two weeks. If you do have military or government work experience of three years or more, then you will earn 6 hours of annual leave every two weeks. 3 years of government work (FAA, military, DoD, etc.) will allow you to earn 6 hours of annual leave every two weeks. 15 years of government work will allow you to earn 8 hours of annual leave every two weeks. Sick leave can only be accrued at 4 hours every two weeks. Leave-without-pay is self-explanatory. You either use it when you exhaust your accrued leave under special circumstances, you’ve received disciplinary action, or you’re absent without leave (AWOL) and you do not value your job. So how easy is it to use leave, and how does seniority affect leave? Keep reading…

SENIORITY. Seniority determines who gets first pick at RDO’s, scheduled annual leave (a.k.a. vacation time), overtime, and other perks of the job. Your starting day of seniority begins on your FIRST day at your facility…AFTER you graduate the academy…WHEN you arrive at your facility for work. I emphasize this because so many people misunderstand this concept. If you arrive at your facility on the same day as another person and you are both assigned to the same area of work, then you will “flip-a-coin” for seniority during the fiscal year. This will happen EVERY year for as long as you both continue to work in the same area. If you are ex-military and you arrive under the same circumstance, then you will automatically be senior to the other person…forever.

BIDDING FOR RDO’S & SCHEDULED ANNUAL LEAVE: At the start of every fiscal year (Oct 1st) each controller will be given the opportunity to choose RDO’s and scheduled annual leave (a.k.a. vacation time) that will begin at the start of and last through the upcoming calendar year (Jan 1st – Dec 31st). Each controller picks his/her RDO’s and 2 weeks of vacation. Bidding on 2 weeks of scheduled annual leave or vacation time doesn’t guarantee its approval for use. It can be taken away under extreme circumstances like sudden under-staffing. First choice will go the most senior then it will be passed down to the least senior. Certified controllers will bid against one another, as will trainees. They are both handled separately. This is the reason why as a trainee it is possible to have the RDO’s and vacation time that you desire while you are in training.

SHIFT WORK: Shift work consists of Day shifts (that vary between 6am and 5pm), Night shifts (that vary between 12pm and 11pm), and Midnight shifts (that vary between 10pm and 8am). Each shift lasts a minimum of 8 hours and cannot last longer than 10 hours. The most common shift work schedule consists of working 2 night shifts, 2 day shifts, and one midnight shift each week. Trainees will not normally work midnight shifts unless required for training, so the last day of work will usually consist of a third day shift. This is consistent among the ARTCCs. Some Terminal facilities aren’t open 24 hours a day, nor are they open 7 days a week. Some are open on holidays and some are not. Some have shifts that operate on a full week of days, then a full week of nights, and so on (I worked this type of shift in the military and the DoD, and hated it. Your body never gets used to it, and the week of straight nights hits your home and social life hard). The shift variations at Terminal facilities are many, and are more flexible than those at ARTCCs. Breaks during shift vary between 15 minutes and 45 minutes. Lunch breaks are the longest and everyone gets just one. You will not be allowed to leave the facility for lunch without taking annual leave. Some facilities have cafeterias and most do not. You should plan to pack a lunch or dinner and snacks for work. Controllers take turns going on break. Supervisors set the length of breaks based on staffing for that day. The more people there are to work the longer the break and the more frequent they become. The fewer there are to work the shorter the break and the less frequent they become. The FAA has required that supervisors avoid allowing controllers to work more than 2 consistent hours on a position without a break. Sometimes it is possible to relieve a controller before they work 2 consistent hours and sometimes it is not. This will become harder to accomplish as staffing levels continue to decrease in the future.

ANNUAL/SICK LEAVE & SHIFT SWAPS: You will be able to request the use of annual and sick leave at any time throughout the year even if it falls on days that you did not bid on the year prior. Its approval will be subject to a first-come, first-serve basis in order of seniority with your peers, and staffing levels for the requested day/s off. It is also possible to swap shifts with another controller when you cannot get a particular day off. It is also possible to work for another controller or have them work for you to accrue credit hours (a.k.a. earned time off). Sick leave is only authorized for use in relation to illness, doctor appointments, etc. It can be used for ill family members or other circumstances like the birth of a child. Sick leave abuse is a problem in the FAA the agency is serious about finding and punishing those that abuse its use.

REALITY CHECK: Now that you have good knowledge of shift work and schedules in the FAA what should you expect as a new hire? You should expect that each facility is different. Don’t let seniority worry you to the point of exhaustion. Everyone has different tastes and needs. Everyone constantly tells people that the most senior have the best days off. This isn’t always the case, they simply get first choice at picking the days off that they want or need. Some people love Tuesday/Wednesday RDOs. Some people don’t want to lose the extra pay that working on a Sunday provides. It really falls on your luck at a given facility. As a new hire and a trainee you won’t have earned enough leave to take long vacations anyway. While you’re training, you won’t want to take leave since your raises are based on your progression. Now is a great time to start working for the FAA in relation to seniority because it’s the beginning of building a new work force. Your progression up the ladder of seniority will happen quickly until all those eligible to retire have done so. During my first year as a trainee, I had Thursday/Friday RDO’s, and during my second year I had Friday/Saturday RDO’s. I can only recall a few circumstances in which my requests for a few days off here and there were not approved.

hehe flipping a coin...what will they do if they have 4 or 5 reporting to one facility on the same day? I ask because it's gonna happen next week :)


Mama Bear....
Staff member
I'm starting to think we may have to create an ATC Hot Topics forum with all these sticky threads! I'll have to talk to doug about it. :)

Great info btw.
Wow... those shifts sound GREAT!!! Holidays!!! Weekends!! Overnights!!! Sounds just like when I was a DJ at the radio station!!! I just hope I can get my life to adapt again.... wait.... I have no life.... THIS JOB IS GONNA BE PERFECT, and the pay is gonna be a helluva lot better!!!! SWEET!!! :rawk:
Wow... those shifts sound GREAT!!! Holidays!!! Weekends!! Overnights!!! Sounds just like when I was a DJ at the radio station!!! I just hope I can get my life to adapt again.... wait.... I have no life.... THIS JOB IS GONNA BE PERFECT, and the pay is gonna be a helluva lot better!!!! SWEET!!! :rawk:
Tell me you are not Josh... :whatever:

I actually miss the Rocket & Theresa show... :D
Tell me you are not Josh... :whatever:

I actually miss the Rocket & Theresa show... :D
The Rocket & Theresa show is still on at Mix 93... I didn't work for Mix however... I worked for the now "defunct" Channel Z 95.7 back in "the day"... when they were actually good. I also worked at the Lazer in Lawrence.
I have some other information about the "coin flip". Well, at least a story about how it was done when I was with the TSA for 5 years.

Everything else written here about seniority and RDOs is pretty much identical to the TSA and I'm guessing most other agencies. With the TSA though, they had a written policy regarding "tie-breakers" in regard to seniority. I can't remember if it was TSA-specific but I want to say it was a standard policy for all agencies. Well, anyway I'll lay it out and maybe it is used by the FAA at some facilities, and maybe not.

The first determining factor was the day you started working (EOD, enter-on date). If more than one person started on the same day they had to use criteria that was non discriminating to determine who was higher up so they went to the last 4 of your SSN. The higher your number, the lower you were. The policy DID say that it could be alternated each cycle to go by ascending or descending numbers but at my airport they ONLY went from 0000 to 9999 and the higher people got screwed eah time. It also stated that managment could use something else like our DHS badge number. Also, after 5 years with the TSA at that airport, there were still tons of original employees (maybe 75%) who started on the exact same date in 2002 so high SSN people always lost out.

Additionally, if one promoted into a higher position, your seniority for shift bids started from that new position date. I was promoted in 2005, along with 2 others. They first used the original EOD as a coin-toss, but the other 2 guys also had the same 2002 date. Then they went to the new promotion date and again all 3 of us had the same date. Then it went to SSN. Mine is very very high so I was at the bottom of the pole until I resigned.

The RDOs were like SUN/MON, MON/TUE, TUE/WED and so on. There were limited slots for each combination on either of 2 shifts. TSA also has to schedule enough female and male employees so this further limited the options of how many of each combo were available. Screeners, Leads, and Supervisors each had their own schedule chart to bid on and as operational needs changed and employees left or came on, these schedules changed every single time we bid, each 6 months, or 3 months, or whenever the stellar management decided to change it at will. So, you never really knew what was going to be available next time around. One period would have 3-4 people with a SAT/SUN and the next would only allow 2 people.

For almost the whole 5 years I was there I almost exclusively had RDOs like TUE/WED or WED/THU, maybe a THU/FRI if I was lucky. And, since the shift bid time always was changing, my RDOs always shifted just in time to allow me to work the holidays. I'm not sure how the FAA does it, but at TSA you got paid 8 hours for each holiday whether you were working or not. So, in a 1-week timeframe a person with a MON as an RDO (where most holidays fall), would receive 48 hours of pay and have the holiday off. A person working on that same holiday would also receive 48 hours of pay, but had no way to enjoy the benefit of the actual holiday off to spend with family and friends. Where is the added benefit? They had what they called an "In Lieu of Holiday" where you were allowed to pick another day AFTER the real holiday to have off, but then you would only receive 40 hours of pay in that time frame. So, you could still get a day off but then lose out on the pay. Too many people would compete for days so most people just sucked it up and worked on the holiday so they could get their extra 8 hours.

Anyway, you can see how different it was from what was explained here for the FAA, but be prepared for the SSN thing for a "coin-toss" as it could be an option where you end up.
They had what they called an "In Lieu of Holiday" where you were allowed to pick another day AFTER the real holiday to have off, but then you would only receive 40 hours of pay in that time frame.
Does the FAA have this? If it doesn't, it seems like controllers miss out on a lot of days off that the regular public, including Government employees, get.
I have a question on vacation. Do you have to request the exact week you want your vacation? Like my husband wants a couple days here and there but the exact week of our family vacation may not be planned. Can he leave some of his vacation unplanned? If so, we can finish planning our vacation and he can find what week would work best to get off and we can plan for that week. Our vacation planning is usually saving, saving, saving and then depending on savings amount a place and time is determined. Will we need to completely change that?