Effects of the nearly three-week-long U.S. government shutdown are taking an increasing toll on government workers, the flow of products, flight approvals, and key aviation research projects, industry and worker representatives say.
The shutdown, which took effect December 22, resulted in the furlough of nearly 18,000 FAA workers alone. But Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) president and CEO Eric Fanning points out that government-wide, 800,000 federal workers are either furloughed or working without pay.
Along with delayed funding and the missed paychecks that “most sharply affect government employees,” AIA noted the ripple effects, such as an inability to process export licenses with the lapse of funding for the Departments of State and Commerce. This is delaying delivery of products to foreign countries, AIA said.
Further government contractors can’t work and major research projects at FAA, NASA, and NOAA are suspended. Government-industry stakeholder meetings also are on hold.
“Every day the shutdown lasts, the impacts grow and become more difficult and more expensive to fix,” Fanning said. “It’s time to get these dedicated public servants back to work.”
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) continue to voice their criticism of the shutdown, with a joint statement highlighting delays that are setting in with Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC), or DataComm, noting this is a key component of the FAA modernization efforts.
“The training for DataComm has a very specific performance schedule,” said NATCA director of safety and technology Jim Ullmann. “Because the timeline is so structured and the training so critical and time-consuming, it places additional pressure on employees who are operating with only 83 percent [on average] of the staffing target at their facilities. This shutdown will delay the implementation of DataComm in many centers by up to a year.”
“Due to the shutdown there will be significant delays to this program,” added ALPA president Joe DePete. “If the shutdown continues, air traffic controllers and pilots previously trained on the system will lose their proficiency due to a lack of use, and re-training will likely be required. The need to re-train will add costs and will no doubt delay the progress of this important airspace system upgrade.”
The groups reiterated their concerns about the inability to continue controller training during the shutdown. “Staffing has fallen each of the last six years and this is the second prolonged closure of the FAA Academy to significantly worsen the staffing crisis,” the groups said.
The National Air Transportation Association further pointed to “numerous reports of failed attempts to obtain ferry permits or add aircraft.” Designated airworthiness representatives (DARs) are hampered in their ability, the association said, adding it is continuing to work with the FAA on the issue.
If the shutdown continues to drag on, the closure of the FSDO will become an increasing issue, fears NBAA, as operators seek letters of authorization, make changes, or add personnel and aircraft to their OpSpecs.
American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) national president David Cox emphasized the harm the shutdown is having on the Transportation Security Administration workforce. "TSA officers already have the least amount of rights of any federal officer, some of the lowest pay and highest attrition rates in government, and among the lowest morale of any federal agency,” Cox said, noting the workforce has dropped from 47,000 to 44,000 with steady attrition. “Working for weeks on end without being compensated—while already being short-staffed—only makes their situation worse."
News reports have suggested “sickouts” taking place with TSA screeners, leading to longer lines. NATCA, meanwhile, disputed reports that air traffic controllers have followed suit, saying it is not aware of higher levels of sick requests. “Air traffic controllers treat their jobs with the highest standard of professionalism,” a NATCA spokesman said.