New Zealand’s controllers reach out to unpaid US colleagues as shutdown enters third week

As the US government shutdown nears the end of its third week, New Zealand’s air traffic controllers were among the wider membership of the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) who reached out with messages of support to American colleagues – none of whom have been paid in the US since December 22.

Tim Robinson, NZALPA president and an international pilot rostered to fly regular New Zealand passenger aircraft to US destinations, said this represents a frustrating and historical new low for the aviation industry.

“The Washington Post has reported that the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is calling back thousands of furloughed inspectors to address safety concerns, and airport security checkpoints have been shut down and agents redeployed as US’s longest government shutdown continues,” said Robinson.

“It was the dedication and professionalism of air traffic controllers, working despite lack of payment, that was helping keep American air travel safe,” Robinson said.

“We echo the words of National Air Traffic Control Association (NATCA’s) Trish Gilbert in that NZALPA would never endorse or condone any kind of action taken that would take ATC work and skills away from the task at hand.”

NZALPA said it is being joined by other ATC organisations around the world, including Australia, Canada, Great Britain and the powerful International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers (IFATCA) who in the last 24 hours voiced their solidarity and support to American colleagues.

“NZALPA has a close relationship with NATCA and here in New Zealand where controllers currently face their own workload challenges and resourcing challenges, we consider NATCA a true leader amongst global aviation trade unions, by demonstrating their ability to function flawlessly to support and encourage their members in their greatest time of need.”

“We also understand the total controller headcount is at the lowest for 30 years and the traffic level at its highest. Retirements were set to peak over the next five years due to the glut from the PATCO strike in 1981 which saw 11,000 controllers being fired by the Reagan administration.
“The training college is shut down, the safety office is closed, and all new projects are on hold. All non-essential and administrative staff have been sent home (furloughed without pay).

“The effects of this shutdown will be felt at the FAA for years to come, it will delay implementation of new technology and systems, stall construction and refurbishment, and cripple the training system as unpaid trainees leave to take alternative work.”

“We salute our US colleagues and can only imagine the uncertainty and financial concerns they, their families and others in the wider aviation community affected by the shutdown are going through,” Robinson said.