Even as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strives to imbue confidence in the nation’s aviation system amid the unprecedented government shutdown—now in its 34th day—air traffic controllers, pilots, and flight attendants are speaking out about a “growing concern” for the “safety and security” of airlines workers and travelers.
Union leaders representing the workers warned in a joint statement late Wednesday that the extraordinary circumstance bears incalculable risks for aviation professionals, who are “being asked to work without pay and in an air safety environment that is deteriorating by the day.”
“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,” they wrote.
“Last Saturday, TSA management announced that a growing number of officers cannot come to work due to the financial toll of the shutdown,” they continued. “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.”
Frighteningly, the groups added: “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.”
The statement was issued by the presidents of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA).
The groups have repeatedly warned that the shutdown could accelerate the retirement plans of roughly 20 percent of the nation’s air traffic controllers. Should that happen, the nation’s aviation system “will be crippled,” they said.
“Somewhere out there is a breaking point. I don’t know where it is,” said former TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, speaking to a congressional panel on Thursday. “I think it will be as far out as any individual can push themselves because they care about what they do.”
“I’m not worried about flying right now,” he added, saying that as long as there are TSA officials on the job, “I know the job is being done.” His main fear, he told the panel, is that eventually, federal workers won’t return to their jobs.
The FAA last week recalled several thousand inspectors and engineers, which it said were now essential for life and safety since the shutdown had passed the three-week mark.
The U.S. Senate on Thursday is prepared to vote on opposing plans to reopen the government—one from Republicans that includes funding for President Trump’s “border wall” and another by Democrats that does not. Neither is expected to receive the 60 votes needed to move forward.
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