Air Traffic Controllers Press Conference

Sophia Hall/WCBS 880

Officials: Shutdown An 'Unnecessary Distraction' For Air Traffic Controllers

January 15, 2019 - 4:26 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) -- The partial government shutdown, now the longest in history, is taking a toll on air traffic controllers and could be creating a dangerous situation, lawmakers and union officials say.

Speaking at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control in Westbury, where there are about 200 air traffic controllers and staff working without a paycheck, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi says the shutdown is causing an unnecessary distraction for air traffic controllers.

"When there's thousands of planes, millions of miles that they're traveling, you don't want these people to be distracted from their job worrying about, 'Boy am I going to get my check this week? Am I going to be able to pay my bills this week?'" Suozzi said. "This can have a very negative impact on their morale because the uncertainty... makes people question whether or not they should stay in this business or they should move into the private sector in some way."

Union president Kevin Maney said air traffic controllers must be focused at all times and distractions need to be kept to a minimum.

"I'm sure that everyone would agree that we want our controllers to come to work without any unncessary stress," Maney said.

"They are literally our eyes in the sky and they're responsible for keeping millions of passengers safe every day, it's unacceptable that they should have to do this important high skil work without pay," U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice said.

Meanwhile, federal officials say they are calling back to work more aviation-safety inspectors who have been idled by the partial government shutdown.
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday the agency expects about 2,200 inspectors to return to the job by the end of this week. That's up from 500 inspectors who were recalled by the end of last week. The FAA has more than 3,000 inspectors who oversee work done by airlines, aircraft manufacturers and repair shops.
Unlike air traffic controllers and airport security screeners, the inspectors are deemed non-essential government workers. They were furloughed when the shutdown began Dec. 22.
Mike Perrone, president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union, said picketing by the inspectors and media coverage helped pressure FAA to recall more of the workers.

(© 2019 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report)