Air travel union leaders warn of 'unprecedented' safety risks as shutdown continues

Air travel union leaders warn of 'unprecedented' safety risks as shutdown continues
© Getty Images

Air travel union leaders on Wednesday released a dire warning about the government shutdown’s affect on air travel.

In a joint statement, the heads of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA wrote of their “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.”


The statement comes on the 33rd day of the partial government shutdown, which has lasted longer than any other shutdown in U.S. history.

About 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or are working without pay during the shutdown, as they are considered “essential” employees. TSA agents and air traffic controllers are among those considered essential personnel.

TSA callouts reached a record high of 10 percent on Sunday, with many reporting financial limitations. A number of airports have also been forced to close security checkpoints due to lack of staffing.

The union leaders’ statement said staffing in air traffic control facilities is at a 30-year low, writing that many controllers are working overtime, six days a week.

They noted that, because the Federal Aviation Administration has frozen hiring, they are unable to work toward meeting their staffing needs. The letter warns that if current controllers who are eligible decide to retire because they are not being paid, the system “will be crippled.”

“As union leaders, we find it unconscionable that aviation professionals are being asked to work without pay and in an air safety environment that is deteriorating by the day. To avoid disruption to our aviation system, we urge Congress and the White House to take all necessary steps to end this shutdown immediately.”

The House has passed several bills to reopen the government, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power MORE has said that the Senate will not take up a bill that is not supported by the White House, and has continued to reject the measures.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE has stood by his demands for $5.7 billion in funding for his proposed U.S.–Mexico border wall, and is urging Democrats to support his latest proposal, which includes wall funding and protections for some immigrants. Democrats have said they will not pass any legislation that includes such funding for a border wall.

The Senate is set to told votes Thursday on two dueling proposals to reopen the government.