US pilots warn government shutdown is affecting safety.

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January 07, 2019
pilots warn shutdown threatens safety
Image: TSA

US pilots have urged President Trump and congressional leaders to end the shutdown of government agencies because it is adversely affecting the safety, security and efficiency of the national airspace system.

The call comes as news reports say airport screeners are calling in sick in increasing numbers and fretting about making ends meet as a result of the shutdown.

The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) says the impact so far has been minimal but it has warned travelers may have to wait longer in security lines.

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The Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA) represents 61,000 pilots says in its letter that disruptions caused by the shutdown are threatening the safety of the nation’s complex airspace system.

“The government agency partners in the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have dual roles,’’ it says. “ They are both regulators and service providers.  When any of their responsibilities are placed on pause due to a shutdown there are safety, security and efficiency gaps that immediately emerge.”

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The letter says there are FAA fewer safety inspectors than are needed to ensure air traffic control is running at peak performance and that there are aircraft and airline manufacturing oversight activities “that either stop or are significantly reduced”.

“These safety and oversight inspections will potentially allow for the introduction of safety issues that put passengers and airline crews at risk,’’ it says.

Other areas the letter says are affected by the shutdown include policing of drones and the implementation of a new FAA air traffic control data communications system.

“Finally, at both the FAA and at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the air traffic controllers, airspace system maintenance personnel, and the airline passenger security workforce are being asked to work unpaid,’’ it says.

“They are dutifully providing safety of life services while facing increasingly difficult financial pressures to provide for those dependent on their paycheck.

“The pressure these civil servants are facing at home should not be ignored.”

The FAA says on its website that the lack of funding means it will conduct only “exempt” activities.

“Air traffic control is fully operational and there is no impact to safety or FAA oversight for travelers,” it says.