Air transport workers warned Thursday that the five-week-old US government shutdown could cause US commercial aviation to collapse.
Speaking at the US capital’s Reagan Washington National Airport, leaders of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Air Line Pilots Association and Association of Flight Attendants warned that if the deadlock between President Donald Trump and Democrats in Congress over funds for a border wall does not end soon, flights could be cut back around the country.
‘We have a growing concern for the safety and security of our members, our airlines, and the traveling public due to the government shutdown,’ leaders of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Air Line Pilots Association and Association of Flight Attendants said.
‘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 said.
Paul Rinaldi, head of the Pilots Association, said the impact of a shortage of air traffic controllers due to the shutdown is already evident.
Control tower staffing was at a 30-year low due to no-shows and the national flight grid was only holding up due to overtime work by controllers, some of whom are working 10-hour days and six-day workweeks.
‘We are starting to see routine mistakes in clearances’ for aircraft, Rinaldi said, due to fatigue among the controllers who are working longer hours, and without pay.
‘If we have less controllers, that means less capacity to the system.’
The result, he warned, will be to ‘work less airplanes to make sure it is safe.’
No end to shutdown
Yet there was no sign of progress toward ending the shutdown Thursday.
Deep divisions in Congress appeared likely to kill two pieces of spending legislation which aim to put the bureaucracy back to work, five weeks after 800,000 were placed on unpaid furloughs.
Air traffic controllers, transportation security officers, safety inspectors and air marshals were not furloughed and have been working without pay.
Inside terminals in major airports, passenger inspection times are  lengthening due to an increasing number of workers for the Transportation Safety Administration not showing up.
TSA said Thursday that it is experiencing 7.5 percent unscheduled absences, compared to a normal three percent rate.
Many TSA workers have sought other jobs rather than continue to work unpaid for TSA.
Sarah Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said this increases the risks to passengers.
‘We are less safe today,’ she said.
‘The critical network of layers of safety and security are not in place because we have people furloughed.’
‘No one will get out of this unscathed if we do not stop this shutdown, she added.