Air traffic controllers and technicians, pilots, and flight attendants joined industry leaders and lawmakers outside the Capitol on Thursday chanting “End This Shutdown…Today!” and “Open the Government…Today!”
The rally, spearheaded by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, was organized in protest of the prolonged partial government shutdown in the U.S. Nearly 800,000 government workers faced the prospect of missing their first paychecks on Friday as the White House and lawmakers remained at an impasse over border wall funding. It also was staged two days before the shutdown would become the longest in history.
Numerous lawmakers appeared before the rally, including Rep. David Price (D-North Carolina), who is to chair the House appropriations subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. Price made a brief appearance to offer support to attendees before the House prepared to vote on his bill that would fund the Department of Transportation and the FAA. “This absolutely has got to stop. The damage is great and the damage is continuing,” Price said.
Price’s measure passed the House later on Thursday by 244-180. However, the Senate does not plan to take up the bill. Other behind-the-scenes efforts to reach a compromise on a government-wide reopening also seemed to stumble yesterday.
NATCA president Paul Rinaldi kicked off the event, warning that the shutdown threatens the National Airspace System, negatively affecting nearly 12 million American jobs and the $1.5 trillion annual GDP contribution. “We don’t care what issue of the day is…we don’t want to be in the middle of a political tug of war,” he said.
General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) president and CEO Pete Bunce joined the group, warning that if the shutdown continued over the next couple of weeks, the cost could run into the billions of dollars for the industry in the first quarter.
“We as manufacturers have had to slow down our activity significantly,” Bunce said, since key FAA functions necessary for approvals have halted. The shutdown ultimately will result in layoffs if the manufacturers can’t get their products approved or delivered, he said. While he acknowledged the registration office remains open, he said the DOT's and FAA's narrow interpretation of what stays open has hampered registration activity.
"It is absolutely unconscionable to us that the [federal aviation workers] are not getting paid for the great work they do,” added Bunce.
Others participating in the rally—including representatives of pilots, flight attendants, airlines, airports, technicians, and the unmanned aircraft industry, alongside more than a half dozen lawmakers—outlined concerns about the effect on the workers who would miss their paychecks, including the many who remained on the job. Rally participants characterized the shutdown as immoral, unfair, ridiculous, insane, and stupid, among other descriptions. Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, asked how these workers make the choice to concentrate on the safety and security of the aviation system when they are concerned about the safety and security of their own families.
Rally attendees also expressed deep concern about the potential for a cumulative degradation to safety and security as resources to maintain the system remain strained.
Many of the industry attendees appeared among the more than 30 organizations that sent a letter to House and Senate leaders, outlining many areas affected by the shutdown. They included new and recurrent certification, inspections, training, hiring, authorization issuance, NextGen advancements, construction applications, among other areas. They also discussed the strain on international operations with the furlough of U.S. Customs and Border Protection workers, as well as the concern that Transportation Security Administration screeners must look for other jobs. The shutdown provides no means to replace the screeners, the letter added.
Rinaldi concluded the event by encouraging attendees to keep pressure on Congress and the White House and by continuing to contact them to voice their concerns.