Local air traffic controllers, going unpaid during the government shutdown, say your next commercial flight could be slowed down thanks to the 17-day stalemate on Capitol Hill.
“Air traffic is a team sport and half our team isn’t there,” said Richard Santa, an air traffic controller at Washington Center in Leesburg, Va.
“It’s difficult to go to work and be expected to do your job, expected to be safe, and expected to have the highest of standards held upon you, but you’re not going to get paid,” said Santa, who spoke to WUSA9 as a union representative 20,000-member National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
While controllers are deemed essential government employees and still reporting to work, 3,000 support staff such as engineers are furloughed, effectively halting technology upgrades, hiring, and planning for major air traffic events such as Super Bowl LIII.
“When you can’t plan for these events, you have to put better safety measures in place,” said Santa, meaning that controllers might not be able to handle as many planes closer together.
The airspace in the Washington region is some of the most dynamic in the country thanks to ever-changing weather and restricted zones for national security. Ironically, controllers from Washington Center will likely handle Air Force One as President Trump travels to the Southern Border later this week.
“We always bring our a-game and we’re required to be there,” said Santa, “but it has nothing to do with the disagreements between Congress and the Administration.”