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Air Safety Environment ‘Deteriorating by the Day’ as Shutdown Continues

Main Terminal of Washington Dulles International Airport at dusk in Virginia, USA. August, 2011.
Main Terminal of Washington Dulles International Airport at dusk in Virginia, USA. August, 2011. (Photo by Joe Ravi, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Members of the aviation industry raised concern over the government shutdown’s effect on aviation safety but the FAA countered with their own response.

On Wednesday associations for air traffic controllers, pilots and flight attendants put out a joint statement expressing their concern at the worsening safety conditions in the airline industry due to the government shutdown.

“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. 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,” said the statement from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

The NATCA filed a lawsuit last week against the federal government for not paying its members. The organization had requested an expedited hearing on its request for a temporary restraining order against the U.S. government but a judge denied the request.

Previously NATCA president Paul Rinaldi told Fox News in an exclusive interview that air traffic controllers were having to decide between putting food on the table or gas in the car.

Rinaldi has repeatedly called for the immediate end to the government shutdown saying, “Every day this goes on it has a negative impact on the people that are keeping airplanes safe throughout the system and it has a negative impact on our nation’s economy.”

Trish Gilbert, Executive VP of the NATCA, also went on TV on Thursday to say that the last thing the government needs is “fatigued controllers driving Uber before their shift so they can pay their bills.”

Wednesday’s joint statement expressed frustration over the impact on staffing that the government shutdown was having on the aviation 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. 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. Due to the shutdown, the FAA has frozen hiring and shuttered its training academy, so 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. Almost 20% 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.

“The situation is changing at a rapid pace. 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,” the statement read.

The joint statement continued on expressing concern over the impact of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) reduced resources.

“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.”

However, the FAA released a statement on Thursday assuring Americans that “our nation’s airspace system is safe.”

News on Wednesday brought a glimmer of hope that a compromise was attainable as reports came out that Democrats have a new offer for Trump which included $5 billion in funding for a “smart wall”, but would not include funding for a physical barrier.

Details of the Democrats proposal are expected to be announced Thursday evening.

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Lauren von Bernuth

Lauren is one of the co-founders of Citizen Truth. She graduated with a degree in Political Economy from Tulane University. She spent the following years backpacking around the world and starting a green business in the health and wellness industry. She found her way back to politics and discovered a passion for journalism dedicated to finding the truth.

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