Shutdown Is Making Air Travel Increasingly Unsafe

With acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney seeking information about what will happen if the shutdown extends into April and Donald Trump threatening "This will go on for a while," and Speaker Nancy Pelosi standing her ground on not allowing Trump to get what he wants by holding the nation hostage, it doesn't look as though the shutdown is going to end anytime soon.

The consequences of a lasting shutdown are unfathomable — the sheer amount of pain for individual federal workers and their families, and the escalating harm for the entire nation.

It's getting very bad very quickly. Yesterday, union leaders for air traffic controllers, pilots, and flight attendants issued a joint statement containing a grim warning about the urgent threat the shutdown is posing to U.S. air travel.

In the statement, National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Paul Rinaldi, Air Line Pilots Association President Joe DePete, and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson wrote: "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."

They continue:
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. Staffing in our air traffic control facilities is already at a 30-year low and controllers are only able to maintain the system's efficiency and capacity by working overtime, including 10-hour days and 6-day workweeks at many of our nation's busiest facilities.

Due to the shutdown, the FAA has frozen hiring and shuttered its training academy, so there is no plan in effect to fill the FAA's critical staffing need. Even if the FAA were hiring, it takes two to four years to become fully facility certified and achieve Certified Professional Controller (CPC) status. Almost 20% of CPCs are eligible to retire today. There are no options to keep these professionals at work without a paycheck when they can no longer afford to support their families. When they elect to retire, the National Airspace System (NAS) will be crippled.

The situation is changing at a rapid pace. Major airports are already seeing security checkpoint closures, with many more potentially to follow. 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.

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. To avoid disruption to our aviation system, we urge Congress and the White House to take all necessary steps to end this shutdown immediately.
At the Guardian, Lauren Gambino additionally notes: "Meanwhile, airlines are reporting tens of millions in lost revenue."

This is one industry. Now multiply this over a number of industries and imagine the safety and economic consequences.

And let us be clear: This is not the result of "government dysfunction," as so many highly-compensated members of our elite political press will tell you. It's not down to "gridlock," and it's not due to "the intransigence of both sides," or whatever language they use to try to equally blame Republicans (who hold the executive branch, the Senate, and the Supreme Court) and Democrats (who hold the House).

It has been an explicit objective of the conservative agenda to shrink the federal government for longer than I've been alive. They have actively endeavored to defund, disempower, and destroy the federal government. Failure is the point.

Conservatives own this shutdown and all of its ugly consequences. They wanted it; they got it; they own it.

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