In an alarming statement, three unions representing aviation workers warned of the risk to its members, airlines and travelers due to the government shutdown, which is now stretching into its second month. The statement called in the White House and Congress to end the shutdown immediately.
“We have a growing concern for the safety and security of our members, our airlines, and the traveling public due to the government shutdown,” the presidents of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the Air Line Pilots Asssociation and the Association of Flight Attendandt-CWA, said in a joint statement. “This is already the longest government shutdown in the history of the United States and there is no end in sight. In our risk averse industry, we cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break. It is unprecedented.”
The statement said that staffing at air traffic control facilities is already at a 30-year low and system efficiencies can only be maintained by controllers working overtime. According to the statement, 20 percent of Certified Professional Controllers are eligible to retire at the moment and there are no options to keep them at work without a paycheck.
“When they elect to retire, the National Airspace System (NAS) will be crippled,” the statement said.
The statement also said that the FAA has frozen hiring and shuttered its training academy due to the shutdown. By doing so, the statement said that there is no plan in effect to fill the FAA’s critical staffing need.
“Even if the FAA were hiring, it takes two to four years to become fully facility certified and achieve Certified Professional Controller (CPC) status,” the statement said.
In response, the FAA issued a statement saying that the traveling public can be reassured that the nation’s airspace system is safe.
“The situation is changing at a rapid pace,” the statement from the unions said. “Major airports are already seeing security checkpoint closures, with many more potentially to follow. Safety inspectors and federal cyber security staff are not back on the job at pre-shutdown levels, and those not on furlough are working without pay. Last Saturday, TSA management announced that a growing number of officers cannot come to work due to the financial toll of the shutdown.”
In an update provided Thursday, the Transportation Security Administration said that the agency experienced a national rate of 7.5 percent of unscheduled absences on Wednesday, January 23. For comparison, on the same day in 2018, the agency experienced a national rate of 3 percent unscheduled absences. The agency said many of its employees say they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations.
On Thursday, two bills in the Senate that would have ended the shutdown — one proposed by Democrats and one proposed by Republicans — failed to pass.
You can read the full statement from the three aviation unions here.
Photo: Workers make adjustments on a flight status video display as test destinations are displayed in the new passenger terminal at Paine Field, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in Everett, Wash. Alaska Airlines says it will delay the start of commercial passenger service at the new passenger terminal by at least three weeks due to the ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government, as the officials who must sign off on a final environmental assessment are on furlough. Photo by Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
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