The people directly responsible for the safety of airline passengers in the United States are issuing a dire warning about the state of air travel during the shutdown.
Leaders of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Air Line Pilots Association and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA have released a joint statement bluntly saying the ongoing partial government shutdown has made flying more dangerous than it was just over a month ago.
“We have a growing concern for the safety and security of our members, our airlines, and the traveling public due to the government shutdown,” the agencies 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.”
Among the concerns was the status of TSA workers, who are increasingly not showing up to work, resulting in checkpoint closures, which are likely to increase. The airline industry’s three biggest unions said “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% operational due to reduced FAA resources.”
Officials further noted that staffing in air traffic control facilities is at a 30-year low and most controllers regularly work overtime. Due to the FAA shutdown, there is no training academy available to help with staffing.
“Almost 20% of [certified controllers] are eligible to retire today,” the agencies said. “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 will be crippled.”
Air travel is not at a peak at present, but the next major holiday is President’s Day weekend in mid-February, usually one of the most popular travel times of the year.