As the longest government shutdown in American history entered its 34th day on Thursday and federal workers prepared to miss another paycheck, a "dire" and "quite scary" warning from unions representing air traffic controllers, pilots, and flight attendants fueled mounting calls for President Donald Trump and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) to reopen the government.
"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."
—aviation worker unions
"We have a growing concern for the safety and security of our members, our airlines, and the traveling public due to the government shutdown," presidents of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) said in a joint statement on Wednesday. "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," the statement noted. "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."
— Bryan Schatz (@BryanSchatz) January 24, 2019
Because of the ongoing partial shutdown triggered by Trump's demands for billions of dollars in border wall funding, the statement pointed out, "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." There is also mounting speculation about a possible strike by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers as a "growing numbers of officers cannot come to work due to the financial toll of the shutdown."
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) "has frozen hiring and shuttered its training academy, so there is no plan in effect to fill the FAA's critical staffing need"—and even if the FAA was hiring, it takes two-to-four years to become properly certified. Given the increasingly precarious conditions at airports nationwide, the union leaders concluded, "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."
On Day 33 of this senseless #shutdown @ALPAPresident Capt. Joe DePete, #NATCA Pres @PaulRinaldi & @afa_cwa’s @FlyingWithSara Nelson issued a joint statement that details growing safety concerns in the US #aviation system caused by the shutdown. Read here: https://t.co/MdD4KmYWrT
— NATCA (@NATCA) January 24, 2019
"Enough is enough," declared MoveOn.org, demanding that Trump and McConnell work to immediately reopen the government. Although the upper chamber is expected to vote on two pieces of legislation on Thursday—one with border wall funding and one without it—neither is expected to pass.
— MoveOn (@MoveOn) January 24, 2019
This latest safety warning from the aviation industry comes after a representative from NATCA appeared on CNN last week to explain that—due to a lack of support staff, limited sleep among furloughed air traffic controllers who are still on the job, and workers supplementing their incomes with extra gigs such as driving for Uber before and after shifts—it is "absolutely" less safe to fly during the shutdown and there are fears of a "catastrophic event."
Trish Gilbert, NATCA's executive vice president, was back on CNN Wednesday afternoon to talk about the shutdown's impact on union members and their families, and the growing safety concerns for the public:
“The last thing we need is fatigued controllers driving Uber before their shift so they can pay their bills… This shutdown has to stop. It’s ridiculous and unreasonable,” says Trish Gilbert, Executive VP of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association https://t.co/68CVHzKNMn pic.twitter.com/PpBeZHbEcp
— CNN (@CNN) January 24, 2019