Air Officials Say Safety Is ‘Deteriorating by the Day’ in Shutdown

Jan 24, 2019

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More than a month into the shutdown of the US government, unions for air traffic controllers, pilots and flight attendants are releasing a new dire warning on the effect of the lack of funding on the safety of the air transport system.

“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 biggest unions for ATC, pilots and flight attendants said in a joint statement on Wednesday night. “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 release goes on to state that air traffic controllers, transportation security officers, safety inspectors, air marshals, federal law enforcement officers, FBI agents and others working without pay for a month is adding to safety concerns. “As union leaders, we find it unconscionable that aviation professionals are being asked to work without pay and in an air safety environment that is deteriorating by the day,” the representatives said, noting that air traffic control operations have been hit particularly hard.

“Staffing in our air traffic control facilities is already at a 30-year low and controllers are only able to maintain the system’s efficiency and capacity by working overtime, including 10-hour days and 6-day workweeks at many of our nation’s busiest facilities,” the statement said. The ATC academy run by the Federal Aviation Administration has also closed during the shutdown, meaning the shutdown could exacerbate low staffing numbers in control towers for years to come.

“There are no options to keep these professionals at work without a paycheck when they can no longer afford to support their families,” the union leaders note. “When they elect to retire, the National Airspace System (NAS) will be crippled.”

Controllers have also been forced to work without support staff, meaning that equipment repairs and other vital services have been delayed or are not happening. Air traffic controllers told TPG that because of the shutdown “morale is very low in facilities,” Vito Gioia, an air traffic controller at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, said.

The union leaders, from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, further noted that due to furloughed FAA inspectors, they “are not confident” that safety reporting data is being properly analyzed. This data is used to prevent accidents and reduce risks and may not be “100 percent operational due to reduced FAA resources,” the statement says.

The unions urged Congress and the White House to reopen the government “to avoid disruption to our aviation system.”

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