Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Air traffic controller Emil Watson uses Data Comm, part of the Federal Aviation Administration Next Generation Air Transportation System in the control tower at Miami International Airport on March 6, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Warning of 'Catastrophic Event,' Air Traffic Controllers Union Official Says Flying 'Absolutely' Less Safe Due to Trump Shutdown

"Each day that this shutdown continues, the situation gets worse and worse," says Trish Gilbert, executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association

Jake Johnson

With the record-long government shutdown over President Donald Trump's demand for border wall funding now in its fourth week, an official representing the National Air Traffic Controllers Association appeared on CNN on Wednesday to issue an alarming warning: Flying is "absolutely" less safe now than it was before the shutdown began.

"This is a horrible game of chicken that we're in the middle of, and we need to get out of it, and we need to get out of it today."
—Trish Gilbert, National Air Traffic Controllers Association

"Each day that this shutdown continues, the situation gets worse and worse," Trish Gilbert, executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, told CNN in an interview. "There are several complicated, complex layers in our system to ensure that it maintains the critical safety components that we all rely on when we fly. What we don't want to see is a catastrophic event occur, and for us to come to you and say we told you that controllers are working longer hours, and now they don't have their support staff."

"They're going to work unpaid, so they're not sleeping at night," Gilbert said of air traffic controllers. "They're looking for other jobs; maybe they're driving Uber before or after their shift. This is unacceptable."

Asked if people should be concerned about flight safety as the shutdown continues with no end in sight, Gilbert answered in the affirmative, declaring: "I would say it is less safe today than it was a month ago, absolutely."

"We do not have the professionals on the job. We are working with bare-bones crews. We have controllers there doing what they do very, very well, but how long can you expect them to do it without all of the systems behind them to keep the system safe and the planes in the air?" Gilbert continued. "This is a horrible game of chicken that we're in the middle of, and we need to get out of it, and we need to get out of it today."

Watch Gilbert's full CNN appearance:

Gilbert's "scary" warning about the safety of flying during the prolonged government shutdown comes just a day after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it is bringing thousands of furloughed inspectors, engineers, and other employees back to work "to perform duties to ensure continuous operational safety of the entire national airspace."

These workers, like hundreds of thousands of other government employees, will not be paid until the shutdown comes to an end.

Doug Lowe, president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists' Florida chapter, echoed Gilbert's concerns in an interview last week, arguing that the longer the government remains shut down, "the more dangerous the aviation system becomes."

"We're gambling with aviation safety right now," Lowe added. "A week from now, I would tell you, 'Yes, I would not get on an aircraft.'"

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Dems Threaten to Subpoena FTI Consulting Over 'Blanket Refusal' to Provide Info on Fossil Fuel Work

"FTI's refusal to cooperate with this congressional inquiry shows that they have something to hide, which will reveal the dangerous ways agencies like theirs have promoted fossil fuel greenwash and misinformation," said the Clean Creatives campaign's leader.

Jessica Corbett ·

Bad Day for DeSantis as 'Stop WOKE Act' Hit With Injunction, Lawsuit

"If Florida truly believes we live in a post-racial society, then let it make its case," a federal judge wrote in blocking part of the controversial law. "But it cannot win the argument by muzzling its opponents."

Brett Wilkins ·

US Judge Says Mar-a-Lago Affidavit 'Can Be Unsealed' With Redactions

"This is going to be a considered, careful process, where everybody's rights, the government's and the media's, will be protected," declared U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart.

Jessica Corbett ·

Federal Judge Orders Starbucks to Rehire Fired Union Organizers in Memphis

"It was a ruling in favor of what's right," said one member of the Memphis Seven. "We knew from day one that we were going to win this, it just took time."

Brett Wilkins ·

Activists Arrested While Protesting 'Dirty Pipeline Deal' Outside Schumer's Office

"Sen. Schumer is sacrificing frontline communities and our clean energy future, all to placate a coal baron," said one organizer, referring to the majority leader's side agreement with Sen. Joe Manchin.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo