Air traffic controllers union: Flying is ‘less safe today than it was a month ago’

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A top member of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said Wednesday that flying is “less safe today than it was a month ago” due to the partial government shutdown.

“I would say [flying] is less safe today than it was a month ago, absolutely,” Trish Gilbert, the executive vice president of the labor union, said on “CNN Newsroom.”{mosads}

“We are working with barebones crews,” Gilbert said. “We have controllers there doing what they do very, very well – but how long can you expect them to do it without all of the systems behind them to keep the system safe? And the planes in the air?”

Gilbert’s comments come as the shutdown stretches into its fourth week. 

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is seeking to recall thousands of workers who had been furloughed but who they have deemed essential to deal with safety concerns.

Thousands of FAA employees are currently working without pay or have been forced to stay home.

“Right now, you’re putting this incredible strain on this system which is unacceptable and unreasonable,” Gilbert said on CNN. “This is a horrible game of chicken that we’re in the middle of and we need to get out of it. We need to get out of it today.” 

Gilbert noted that air traffic controllers have a “robust” safety system in which its work force can report all safety concerns. But, she said, those who usually take action based on those reported concerns are not currently working.

“There’s nobody underneath to take any action with the things that are being reported,” Gilbert said.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents have also been hit hard by the shutdown, with the agency reporting this week that more than twice the normal rate of employees have been calling in sick as the partial government shutdown leaves them working without pay.

Major airports across the country have dealt with long security lines and even closures due to a lack of staffing.

A federal judge on Tuesday refused to issue an order that would have forced the federal government to temporarily pay federal workers during the government shutdown. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and the The National Treasury Employees Union had brought lawsuits challenging the shutdown on behalf of their members. 

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