The 35-day shutdown of the U.S. government “cut us deep” but presents an opportunity for funding reform, said the head of the nation’s air traffic controllers union. Speaking to the Aero Club of Washington yesterday, National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) president Paul Rinaldi traced through some of the damage incurred during the shutdown, including the stress on the controllers who worked without pay, along with the cessation of training of new controllers, the halting of programs such as Datacomm implementation, and the stoppage of key safety reporting programs. In a macro sense, Rinaldi cited preliminary numbers that the shutdown cost $11 billion, $55 billion in lost economic growth, and $105 million to airlines alone. He added the government paid $90 million a day to have its workers stay home.
“Our system was running full steam ahead on December 21. It was a freight train,” he said, adding it was growing, modernizing, preparing for new entrants, and certifying. That train came to a stop, he said. “We lost time, we lost energy, we lost people and a lot of people lost heart.” He stressed the compounding effects that a 35-day shutdown has, saying the ramifications will continue for some time.
Concerning to Rinaldi is that the government is still operating under temporary funding, and he pointed out that the last year was marked by three shutdowns and a string of stopgap funding measures. “February 15 is 17 days from today,” he told the Aero Club. “Are they actually going to make a deal?”
But Rinaldi also said, “Out of this tragedy could be a wonderful opportunity. NATCA’s position on FAA reform remains unchanged.” While NATCA does not have a specific proposal, he said the association backs four primary principles: ensuring the frontline workforce is protected, safety and efficiency is a top priority, the funding stream is stable and predictable, and the system remains dynamic and services all users.
The current system does not meet any of those principles Rinaldi said, adding, “After this shutdown, I don’t think any of you…can say this system meets your core principles. Is that cut deep enough? Are you ready yet?” He pointed out that even though the government was shut down, the aviation trust fund—which still collected money during the shutdown—has a $6.5 billion uncommitted balance and is on track to be funded at about $20 billion annually by 2020.
“Given the damage we saw over the last 34 days…Isn’t it time for stakeholders to say there’s got to be a better way to fund aviation?”
The aviation system should not be held hostage to issues that are not germane to aviation, he added. "This should never happen again."