Airport Unions: 'We Cannot Even Calculate The Level Of Risk Currently At Play'

by Thea Glassman

Airport unions warn that government shutdown is causing grave safety concerns

The government shutdown has stretched into its 34th day, with no end in sight and 800,000 federal workers living without their paychecks. We’re already seeing the heartbreaking effects of this shutdown – from workers struggling to buy diapers for their children to domestic violence shelters losing their resources. Now, here’s one more consequence to add to the list. Airport unions are warning that there’s an “unprecedented” safety threat for travelers and employees.

The head of unions that represent 13,000 pilots, air traffic controllers, and flight attendants, issued a joint statement explaining the potentially dire situation that the shutdown is causing. “We have a growing concern for the safety and security of our members, our airlines and the traveling public due to the government shutdown,” they explained in their statement. “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 unions noted that many employees, including air traffic controllers, transportation security officers, safety inspectors, and air marshals, have been working without pay for over a month now. Also, staffing in air traffic control facilities is at a 30-year low and controllers are being forced to work overtime to keep up.

“The situation is changing at a rapid pace. Major airports are already seeing security checkpoint closures, with many more potentially to follow,” the statement said. “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. Last Saturday, TSA management announced that a growing number of officers cannot come to work due to the financial toll of the shutdown.”

“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,” they write.

That’s not all. The head of unions also added that 20% of controllers are eligible to retire and, if they do so, “the National Airspace System will be crippled.” Oh, and to add bad news on top of bad news, airlines are losing more than $100 million a month in revenue, according to The New York Times.

Airports are struggling to cope with their lack of resources. The Times reported that Baltimore-Washington International closed its checkpoints over the weekend. T.S.A had to use extra screeners at Newark Liberty International and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International because the lines were so long. Call-outs from security workers spiked to 10% on Sunday.

“As union leaders, 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,” the statement concluded. “To avoid disruption to our aviation system, we urge Congress and the White House to take all necessary steps to end this shutdown immediately. “