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NATCA TO CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP: End the Shutdown; It is Not Business As Usual for Air Traffic Control – (10/4/2013)

Letter to Speaker Boehner, Democratic Leader Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Reid and Senate Republican Leader McConnell:

We are writing today to remind Congress that the government shutdown and resulting furloughs are having an impact on our National Airspace System (NAS). No one should be under the illusion that it is business as usual for air traffic control under a shutdown. Even though air traffic controllers and other aviation safety professionals have been maintaining the safety of the system, this furlough is rapidly eliminating the layers of redundancy and safety that we rely on.

Controllers are the human components of our NAS. They are part of a complex team that includes support staff such as Air Traffic Support Staff Specialists, Aviation Technical Systems Specialists, and Infrastructure, Equipment, and Construction Engineers. These aviation safety professionals work every day in a system with no room for error, and the furloughs are making an already complicated and stressful job even more stressful by removing key human components of the NAS – all of the support positions listed above have been furloughed and forced to stay at home instead of working. These men and women must work together with our certified professional controllers for the NAS to function at top safety and efficiency. We wouldn’t ask a surgeon to perform an operation without the assistance of a support team, and we shouldn’t be asking air traffic controllers to continue working traffic error-free without support staff. Today we are asking our controllers to maintain the safety and efficiency of the system without the necessary contribution of 3,000 safety professionals.

During the shutdown, in addition to the daily stress of controlling traffic and maintaining the safety of millions of Americans, controllers are faced with the stress of knowing that they are working without pay. Since October 1, and for the duration of the shutdown, they will be working without a paycheck. This uncertainty affects them and their families. Additionally, the 3,000 NATCA members who are non-excepted will be without pay for the duration of the shutdown, which also affects morale and could be the impetus for eligible FAA employees to retire. 

In fact, staffing is already a problem for the NAS – sequestration has forced the FAA to initiate a hiring freeze, meaning that the system is unable to replace veteran controllers who have retired. Current controllers who have been training new hires will be unable to continue the training process during the shutdown, meaning new hires that were in place pre-sequester cannot continue their training. As a result, facilities may be faced with staffing shortages, with no foreseeable end in sight. With more than 20 percent of the controller workforce currently eligible to retire, hiring and training their replacements should be a top priority for the federal government. But efforts to do both have been stopped in their tracks.

In addition to the loss of pay and the added stress of working without all human components of the system, those controllers who show up to work every day will no longer be able to access their federally guaranteed Family Medical Leave Act days, or use their sick leave. Thus a controller will not be able to take sick leave and will be required to control traffic even when ill, or face an unpaid furlough day. A NATCA member whose three-year-old son was recently diagnosed with leukemia will be unable to take FMLA time to care for his son. Instead he will be controlling traffic in an increasingly stressful environment. We cannot ignore that controllers are humans who are susceptible to stress. These demanding conditions are exponentially increasing their stress levels.

Directly or indirectly, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s (NATCA’s) entire membership is vital in keeping the American airspace the safest, most efficient system in the world. NATCA joins the voices of millions of Americans who are calling for an end to the shutdown so FAA employees can continue the work of controlling traffic in the safest, most efficient aviation system in the world.

Paul M. Rinaldi – NATCA President
Patricia C. Gilbert – NATCA Executive Vice President
October 4, 2013

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