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FAA delays flights at NYC, NJ, Philly airports over air traffic control shortage

LaGuardia Airpot in New York City. (Patrick Nouhailler/Flickr)
January 25, 2019

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates as more information becomes available.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has delayed some flights coming into New York City’s LaGuardia Airport on Friday over air traffic control staffing shortages.

CNBC reported that the ground stop was issued just before 10 a.m. EST on Friday.

Outgoing flights are being delayed at Newark Liberty International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport.

The delays due to staffing shortages come on day 35 of the partial government shutdown, during which hundreds of thousands of federal employees who are deemed “essential” have been told to go to work but not be paid.

The workers are expected to be paid what they are owed once the government fully reopens, but right now they are working without being paid. This has caused a spike in workers calling out sick.

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, three major aviation unions said there is a “growing concern” for their workers’ safety, and that the shutdown is “unprecedented.”

Here is the joint statement issued by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA):

We have a growing concern for the safety and security of our members, our airlines, and the traveling public due to the government shutdown. This is already the longest government shutdown in the history of the United States and there is no end in sight. 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.

Due to the shutdown, air traffic controllers, transportation security officers, safety inspectors, air marshals, federal law enforcement officers, FBI agents, and many other critical workers have been working without pay for over a month. Staffing in our air traffic control facilities is already at a 30-year low and controllers are only able to maintain the system’s efficiency and capacity by working overtime, including 10-hour days and 6-day workweeks at many of our nation’s busiest facilities. Due to the shutdown, the FAA has frozen hiring and shuttered its training academy, so there is no plan in effect to fill the FAA’s critical staffing need. Even if the FAA were hiring, it takes two to four years to become fully facility certified and achieve Certified Professional Controller (CPC) status. Almost 20% of CPCs are eligible to retire today. 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 (NAS) will be crippled.

The situation is changing at a rapid pace. Major airports are already seeing security checkpoint closures, with many more potentially to follow. Safety inspectors and federal cyber security staff are not back on the job at pre-shutdown levels, and those not on furlough are working without pay. Last Saturday, TSA management announced that a growing number of officers cannot come to work due to the financial toll of the shutdown. In addition, 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 percent operational due to reduced FAA resources.

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.”