Aviation experts concerned shutdown is impacting passenger safety

Posted at 3:13 PM, Jan 04, 2019

The government shutdown is flying into dangerous territory, according to several aviation leaders.

The largest pilot union says the shutdown "is adversely affecting the safety, security and efficiency of our national airspace system."

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is also warning the shutdown is rapidly eliminating safety layers "in a system that has no room for error."

“We're always worried about any kind of hiccup in the system,” says James Marinitti, with the association. “We're doing this interview. We can do a second take. We can do a third take. But for air traffic controllers, you only get one take. They work in a mistake-free environment, where we are expected to be right 100 percent of the time.”

Right now, 3,000 support staff have been told not to come to work, which means fewer safety inspectors. That could lead to delay in repairing equipment, like a broken light on the runway that helps guide pilots and other equipment repairs.

“Radar, preventative maintenance, these types of things that will get delayed as the shutdown continues, because the workers are not there to keep the system healthy,” Marinitti says.

The shutdown is hitting air traffic controllers especially hard because of a 30-year low staffing shortage. They're not only understaffed, but they’re also currently working without pay and it's unknown when they'll get their next check.

“The bills haven't come, yet, to be a problem, but we know that's there in the back of our heads,” says air traffic controller Alex Navarro. “And as the day goes on and the shutdown, it's getting more pronounced, so we're worried about it. It's just trying to fight back the doubt and the worry of not getting that paycheck.”

The shutdown, causing stress as aviation workers try to navigate through turbulent times on and off the job.