FAA briefly halts flights into LaGuardia amid staffing shortages, shutdown

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) briefly halted flights into LaGuardia Airport in New York City on Friday morning in a move related to the government shutdown.

The halt was put in place just after 10 a.m. and was lifted at about 11 a.m. A ground delay remained in effect, according to the FAA's website.

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Delays were also being reported at Newark Liberty International and Philadelphia International airports on Friday morning as air traffic controllers work without pay amid the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history.

The FAA issued a statement saying that it had experienced a "slight increase in sick leaves at two facilities."

"We are mitigating the impact by augmenting staffing, rerouting traffic, and increasing spacing between aircraft when needed. The public can monitor air traffic at fly.faa.gov and they should check with airlines for more information," the FAA said in a statement.

Democrats seized on the news as evidence that the shutdown is causing severe problems at airports.

"The #Trump/Shutdown has already pushed hundreds of thousands of Americans to the breaking point. Now it's pushing our airspace to the breaking point too," Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDonald Trump proved himself by winning fight for border security Trump should beware the 'clawback' Congress The national emergency will haunt Republicans come election season MORE (D-Calif.) said in a tweet. "@realDonaldTrump, stop endangering the safety, security and well-being of our nation. Re-open government now!"

 
“The president has been briefed and we are monitoring the ongoing delays at some airports," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. "We are in regular contact with officials at the Department of Transportation and the FAA.”  

Air travel union leaders warned Wednesday that the shutdown was adversely affecting flight safety.

In a joint statement, the heads of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA wrote that they had “growing concern for the safety and security of our members, our airlines, and the traveling public.”

“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,” they wrote. “It is unprecedented.”

NATCA told The Hill in a statement Friday that while the union does not condone “coordinated activity that negatively effects the capacity of the National Airspace System,” the shutdown has made the situation worse for its members.

"In the past few weeks, we have warned about what could happen as a result of the prolonged shutdown,” NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said. “Many controllers have reached the breaking point of exhaustion, stress, and worry caused by this shutdown. Each hour that goes by that the shutdown continues makes the situation worse.”

Rinaldi said the shutdown has compounded stress for workers navigating an already "difficult and stressful job."

“Air traffic controllers are required to report fit for duty every shift. It is a very high threshold of fitness demanded by the seriousness of the job," he added. "This shutdown has caused a tremendous amount of added stress for them on top of what is already a difficult and stressful job.”

The partial government shutdown, now it its 35th day, has had a big impact on air traffic controllers, who are deemed essential workers and have been working without pay.

Federal workers missed their second paycheck on Friday as the federal government remained closed with few signs of progress in negotiations.

The government has been partially shutdown since Dec. 22 over disagreements between Trump and congressional Democrats on the White House’s demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall. Roughly 800,000 federal workers are either furloughed or working without pay during the shutdown. 

Newark Liberty International Airport was experiencing delays of 45 to 59 minutes for a time on Friday morning, according to the FAA, while delays at Philadelphia International Airport were from one hour, one minute to one hour, 15 minutes. The FAA later on Friday morning said Philadelphia was no longer experiencing delays.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said in a statement to The Hill that they had 7.6 percent unscheduled absences on Thursday, compared to 3 percent on the same day last year, partly because “many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations.” 

The TSA noted that 99.9 percent of passengers did not have wait times exceeding 30 minutes at security checkpoints.

Updated at 12:12 p.m.