US aviation industry demand end to US Government shutdown

Unions representing air traffic controllers, pilots and flight attendants are demanding an end to the US Government shutdown, saying the “unprecedented” and “unconscionable” impasse could cause the country’s entire aviation system to break down.

The shutdown has forced air traffic controllers, airport security personnel, air marshals, FBI agents and safety inspectors to work without pay for more than a month and comes at a time when staffing levels are already at a 30-year low.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association joined the Air Line Pilots Association International and Association of Flight Attendants to issue the joint statement on  Day 33 of the shutdown on January 23.

“We have a growing concern for the safety and security of our members, our airlines, and the travelling 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.

“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.

They said the situation is changing at a rapid pace with major airports already seeing security checkpoint closures, and many more potentially following suit.

“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.”

“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. To avoid disruption to our aviation system, we urge Congress and the White House to take all necessary steps to end this shutdown immediately. “

WATCH CNN news interview with NATCA president Paul Rinaldi