By Stacey Leasca
January 24, 2019

The government shutdown is rolling into its second month with no end in sight. And that, air traffic controllers say, is not only wreaking havoc on the nation’s airports, but is also potentially making air travel unsafe.

“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,” the air traffic controllers, pilots, and flight attendants unions said in a joint statement on Wednesday, Time reported.

Thanks to the stalemate between President Donald Trump and Democrats over the proposed border wall, thousands of federal employees are currently going unpaid. This, Time noted, includes air traffic controllers, TSA agents, safety inspectors, air marshals, and FBI agents. With so many workers going unpaid, many are resorting to calling out sick or not showing up to work at all. This is now leaving airports both understaffed and potentially open to danger.

TSA staff are taking sick leave in record numbers since the partial government shutdown forced them to work without pay began on Deember 22, 2018. Shortly after the new Congress was sworn in on Thursday, the House approved legislation to fund homeland security operations until February 8 and several other agencies through September -- but no money for a wall.
MARK RALSTON/Getty Images

“We have a growing concern for the safety and security of our members, our airlines, and the traveling public due to the government shutdown,” the statement from the unions read. “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.”

As the groups further explained, because of the shutdown the FAA froze hiring and shuttered its training academy, while many airports around the country are being forced to close security checkpoints.

“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,” the statement concluded. “To avoid disruption to our aviation system, we urge Congress and the White House to take all necessary steps to end this shutdown immediately. “