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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.'"


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