Air Safety Is Important. We Shouldn't Let Politics Put It at Risk
It's time to remove this vital function from the government budget.
Employees of the American aviation industry warned this week that the government shutdown poses "unprecedented" risks for air travel in the United States. In a joint statement released Wednesday by unions representing air traffic controllers, pilots, and flight attendants, employees said that "staffing in our air traffic control facilities is already at a 30-year low and controllers are only able to maintain the system's efficiency and capacity by working overtime, including 10-hour days and 6-day workweeks at many of our nation's busiest facilities." Transportation Security Agency (TSA) employees are also working overtime without pay, and many have called in sick during the shutdown so that they can work other jobs.
Aviation unions are right to call attention to possibly increased risks to aviation safety (air traffic control) and security (checkpoint screening) due to controllers and screeners going for long periods without pay.
This is not because of any malfeasance on the part of these employees. Instead, it is a predictable consequence of increasing fatigue brought about by working excessive overtime and the stress of not getting paid. Overtime is occurring as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Transportation Security Administration, respectively, attempt to cope with staffers calling in sick, or—in the case of some controllers—deciding to retire, rather than continuing on without paychecks or enough fellow workers.