Airports across the country have endured a month of being short staffed during the federal government shutdown, but at LaGuardia Airport in New York City, the crisis has officially brought operations to a grinding halt.
According to The Street, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is temporarily stopping flights into New York's LaGuardia airport because of air traffic control staffing issues.
Unions representing air traffic controllers, pilots, and flight attendants said in a collective statement on Wednesday that the ongoing government shutdown would pose a risk on air safety. “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 statement said.
Not only have air traffic controllers been working around the clock, unpaid, in order to keep passengers safe during the shutdown, but TSA agents, safety inspectors, air marshals, and FBI agents have as well. But to make matters more difficult, many workers have called in sick or simply quit due to the prospect of having to continue working without a paycheck, and with no guarantee of one anytime in the near future. As the government shutdown enters its second month, there is still no end in sight.
Paul Rinaldi, the President of the Air Traffic Controllers Association, told CNN on Wednesday that some air traffic controllers are “making routine mistakes” due to the higher levels of stress caused by the shutdown.
The delayed and canceled flights to La Guardia, as well as Philadelphia International Airport, Washington's Reagan National and Newark Liberty International Airport are due to a staffing shortage at an air traffic control center in Washington, The Street reported.
There is also a staffing shortage at a center in Jacksonville, Florida, according to The Street.
According to WGN9 in Chicago, the FAA said in a statement that they “have experienced a slight increase in sick leave at two air traffic control facilities affecting New York and Florida,” adding, “As with severe storms, we will adjust operations to a safe rate to match available controller resources. We’ve mitigated the impact by augmenting staffing, rerouting traffic, and increasing spacing between aircraft as needed.”
President Trump was briefed on the ground stop at the airports in question. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement, “We are monitoring the ongoing delays at some airports,” adding, “We are in regular contact with officials at the Department of Transportation and the FAA,” according to CNN.
Trish Gilbert, Executive Vice President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, told CNN that the airport delays are “absolutely” a result of the government shutdown. “We predicted that you cannot continue to operate a system this complex for this long without the support structure of the people that are furloughed,” she said.
Political officials are tentative, but think that the airport stoppage may be the key to ending the government shutdown, according to CNN, citing administration officials.
This story is developing.