Air Travel Union Leaders Issue Dire Warning Regarding Continued Government Shutdown
Air travel union leaders are expressing mounting concern about the government shutdown’s impact on the safety of air travel, calling on the nation’s elected leaders to act swiftly to resolve the deadlock.
“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,” according to a joint statement released Wednesday by the heads of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.
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“To avoid disruption to our aviation system, we urge Congress and the White House to take all necessary steps to end this shutdown immediately. “
The statement was issued on what marked day 33 of the government shutdown and goes on to detail the extensive and troubling ramifications that the lack of government funding is having on the industry.
“Due to the shutdown, air traffic controllers, transportation security officers, safety inspectors, air marshals, federal law enforcement officers, FBI agents and many other critical workers have been working without pay for over a month,” said the statement. “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 six-day workweeks at many of our nation’s busiest facilities.”
Due to the shutdown, the FAA has also frozen hiring and shuttered its training academy, so there is no plan in effect to fill the FAA’s critical staffing need, the statement continues.
Even if the FAA were hiring, it takes two to four years to become fully facility certified and achieve Certified Professional Controller (CPC) status. This is important because almost 20 percent of CPCs are eligible to retire today.
“There are no options to keep these professionals at work without a paycheck when they can no longer afford to support their families. When they elect to retire, the National Airspace System (NAS) will be crippled,” said the statement.
About 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or are working without pay during the government shutdown. Those still working are considered essential employees and include TSA agents and air traffic controllers.
According to the air travel union leaders, the fallout from the shutdown is changing at a rapid pace. Major airports are already seeing security checkpoint closures, with many more potentially to follow.
What’s more, 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 addition, we are not confident that system-wide analyses of safety reporting data, which is used to identify and implement corrective actions in order to reduce risks and prevent accidents is 100 percent operational due to reduced FAA resources,” the statement noted.
“We have a growing concern for the safety and security of our members, our airlines, and the traveling public due to the government shutdown. This is already the longest government shutdown in the history of the United States and there is no end in sight,” concludes the warning. “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.”
Several bills have been passed by the House to reopen the government. However, Senate Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, continues to insist that the Senate will not take up a bill that is not supported by the White House.