Air traffic controllers' union issues dire safety warning over shutdown

Marco Green
January 25, 2019

Speaking at the United States capital's Reagan Washington National Airport, leaders of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Air Line Pilots Association and Association of Flight Attendants warned that if the deadlock between President Donald Trump and Democrats in Congress over funds for a border wall does not end soon, flights could be cut back around the country.

Yet there was no sign of progress toward ending the shutdown on Thursday.

The air traffic controllers union said that many of its members have been forced to take second jobs because they have gone unpaid for weeks and warned that the government shutdown has created an "unprecedented" risk to air travel. "To avoid disruption to our aviation system, we urge Congress and the White House to take all necessary steps to end this shutdown immediately". Given the increasingly precarious conditions at airports nationwide, the union leaders concluded, "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".

Sarah Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said this increases the risks to passengers. "Others are going to work when our work space is increasingly unsafe".

Speaking to CNN's Chris Cuomo on Wednesday night, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said that he had not intended "to put fear into anybody" when the statement was issued but that his concerns were both deep and real.

The shutdown's effects could leave long-lasting scars on the agency.

The controllers aren't counting the days since the government shutdown began.

But even congressional Republicans are floating the idea of an illegal TSA strike as a potential shutdown-ender.

"Borrowing from a bank or federal credit union" is "federally guaranteed", Ross said, so "there's no real reason why they shouldn't be able to get a loan against" the month's worth of pay they are missing.

"While we are sounding the alarm unfortunately we have the front seat to watching this unravel and crumble and we need somebody to hear and listen", said Daniels. And in an interview with Slate, historian and 1981 ATC strike expert Josh McCartin cites an important difference between the walkout nearly 40 years ago and the hypothetical one today: The Reagan administration had years to prepare for the union talks - two years before controllers' contracts ran out it was obvious there would be a dispute - while the chaotic Trump administration might flub a scenario like this, even with years to prepare. Overtime is occurring as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Transportation Security Administration, respectively, attempt to cope with staffers calling in sick, or-in the case of some controllers-deciding to retire, rather than continuing on without paychecks or enough fellow workers.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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