Pilots say U.S. government shutdown threatens the safety of passengers
WASHINGTON - Now thirteen days into the latest partial government shutdown, air travel professionals are saying that workers being furloughed is negatively impacting passenger safety. Federal workers deemed "unessential" have been told not to report to their jobs, including safety inspectors.
"At the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there are fewer safety inspectors than are needed in order to ensure the air traffic control infrastructure is performing at its peak levels of performance. There are also airline and aircraft manufacturing oversight activities that either stop or are significantly reduced. These safety and oversight inspections will potentially allow for the introduction of safety issues that put passengers and airline crews at risk," wrote Joe DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International in a letter to President Trump and Congress on Thursday.
On the same day, FAA safety inspectors picketed at the Miami International Airport carrying signs reading "Was your airplane properly repaired and inspected today? The FAA does not know!"
Telling the Miami Herald, Charles Banks, who has worked as an FAA safety inspector for 15 years, said, “My job is the safety of people. I have family flying too and I can’t protect them from here on the curb.”
The Herald also reported that just prior to the shutdown, one cargo plane's collided on the ground with another cargo plane's tail at Miami International, and the FAA inspectors caught damage that one of the airlines hadn't originally reported. Now furloughed, the inspectors cannot verify that the needed repairs were completed by the airplane manufacturer.
While the nonessential workers have been furloughed, essential workers, such as air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers are on the job, but they are not getting paid while the government is shutdown.
"The pressure these civil servants are facing at home should not be ignored," Captain DePete wrote in his letter to the Executive and Legislative branches. "At some point, these dedicated federal employees will encounter personal financial damages that will take a long time to which to recover, if at all."
It was a sentiment echoed by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), who's president, Paul Rinaldi, spoke about the situation.
“Even before the shutdown, controllers have needed to work longer and harder to make up for the staffing shortfall," remarked Rinaldi. "Overtime in the form of six-day weeks and 10-hour days is common at many of the nation’s busiest and most short-staffed facilities including radar facilities in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and Dallas. And none of the controllers forced to work during this shutdown will see pay for their hard work to keep travelers safe until the shutdown ends. This shutdown must end now.”
Another consequence of the shutdown is the suspension of the implementation of a new communications ability between air traffic controllers and the flight deck called "Data Comm."
"Due to the shutdown there will be significant delays to the program" Captain DePete wrote. "If the shutdown continues, air traffic controllers and pilots previously trained on the system will lose their proficiency due to a lack of use, and re-training will likely be required. The need to re-train will add costs and will no doubt delay the progress of this important airspace system upgrade."
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