Is the Government Shutdown Affecting Airport Safety?

Despite the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that oversees the air traffic controllers at Logan International Airport put out a statement trying to ease worries over air safety.

“Safety is the top priority for the FAA,” said the FAA in a statement. “Air traffic controllers and the technicians who maintain the nation’s airspace system continue to serve their critical mission to ensure  the public’s safety. We are allocating resources based on risk assessment to meet all safety critical functions. If we identify an issue, we recall inspectors and engineers to address it. We sincerely thank  FAA employees who are working to keep the traveling public and our skies safe.”

Since the government shutdown air traffic controllers at Logan and across the country have been working without pay adding to an already stressful job. While Aviation International News Online (AINOnline), a monthly aviation business trade publication explained that the government shutdown earlier this year caused the furlough of nearly 18,000 FAA employees, affecting activities such as airman certificate issuance, unmanned operation exemptions, rulemaking, facility inspections, dispute resolution, and financial activities, among others, the publication also reported that air traffic controllers have been exempt from the furloughs.

Last week the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, AFL-CIO (NATCA) filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court on behalf of its members who have not been paid for their work since late December. NATCA requested an expedited hearing on its motion for a Temporary Restraining Order against the United States government for its violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. NATCA alleges that the government unlawfully deprived NATCA members of their earned wages without due process.

The suit also alleges violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for failure to pay at least the minimum wage to air traffic controllers and other NATCA members who are excepted from the furloughs during the government shutdown. Finally, it alleges that the FAA failed to promptly pay overtime to NATCA members in violation of the FLSA. On behalf of its members, NATCA seeks an order requiring the government to pay its members for the work they have performed as well as liquidated damages.

Complicating the matter, in a report on National Public Radio a Logan air traffic controller claimed that the government shut down and lack of pay is causing stress among his colleagues.

Now East Boston’s AirInc., the local watchdog group that monitors, among other things, operations at Logan, are keeping a watchful eye on the situation.

“My calls to the Eastern Service Area’s Quality Control Group this morning confirmed that air traffic control at Logan is fully staffed operationally with controllers, supervisors and managers,” said AirInc.’s Chris Marchi. “However, a National Public Radio story on WBUR, suggested that controller at Boston Logan airport’s tower and in air traffic control rooms across the country are working under increased stress due to the lack of pay. We have called the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers (NATCA) to inquire further about the status of the working conditions for air traffic controllers. While stress is clearly part of an air traffic controller’s job, it is well known that stresses from various activities combine and can produce negative cumulative effects on health and performance.”

So as the for now the answer to the question is the shutdown affecting airport safety is that while air traffic controllers are working at full strength they are not working under ideal conditions.

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