Aviation Unions on Shutdown: We Can't Calculate the Risk

Reps for air traffic controllers, pilots, flight attendants say air safety system 'deteriorating'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 24, 2019 6:22 AM CST
Aviation Unions on Shutdown: We Can't Calculate the Risk
Air traffic controllers are worried that the stress of not getting paid could affect them on the job.   (Getty Images/18percentgrey)

Is it still safe to fly during the government shutdown? That's a question with a potentially uncomfortable answer, at least according to the unions representing more than 130,000 pilots, flight attendants, and air traffic controllers, per the New York Times. In a statement, the presidents of the three unions say that due to the shutdown now in its 33rd day, the "air safety environment ... is deteriorating by the day," and that President Trump and Congress should work to end the shutdown ASAP. "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," the statement notes, citing security checkpoint closures at airports, a drop in the number of cybersecurity workers and safety inspectors on the job, and analysts' weakened ability to assess risks. "It is unprecedented."

The statement also calls it "unconscionable" that aviation employees are being asked to punch in without pay. "This job requires 100% focus at all times," Paul Behan, an air traffic controller out of Jacksonville, Fla., tells CBS47, which adds that an ATC specialist in that area could have anywhere from five to 15 planes on his or her radar at once. "Having the added stress of not knowing when your next paycheck is coming … [is] introducing risk … Any lapse in judgment or focus can cause a catastrophe." But the FAA tells the station in a statement it hasn't seen an "unusual" uptick in air traffic controllers not showing up to work, nor "operational disruptions," and that "overall, the traveling public can be assured that our nation's airspace system is safe." Intelligencer, meanwhile, wonders if a "long-shot" aviation strike could end the shutdown. (This airport has the worst wait times due to the shutdown.)

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