WASHINGTON – The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is calling on Congress to prevent a government shutdown and provide the National Airspace System (NAS) with stable, predictable funding.
“We’ve been asking Congress to establish a stable funding mechanism for the NAS since the last shutdown ended,” said NATCA President Paul Rinaldi. “Yet two years later, we find ourselves in the same situation, where the efficiency of the safest airspace system in the world could be negatively affected due to disagreement over an issue unrelated to aviation. The looming shutdown is further evidence that stable, predictable funding is an essential next step for Congress."
Commercial aviation contributes $1.5 trillion annually to the U.S. gross domestic product and the NAS supports more than 12 million American jobs. In order to grow, modernize and help power the U.S. economy, aviation cannot be subjected to repeated budget crises. Shutdowns, sequestration cuts, and the uncertainty they have wrought have peeled away layers of safety redundancies and diminished the FAA’s ability to maintain fully staffed and trained workforces.
There are now almost 1,000 fewer controllers in the workforce and more of them eligible to retire, 24 percent, than during the last government shutdown. Because of that shutdown and due to sequestration cutbacks, the FAA forced a halt to its hiring and training from March to December 2013, resulting in its inability to keep up with the pace of attrition. If another shutdown forces another freeze to the hiring and training of controllers, the number of understaffed facilities would increase and air traffic capacity would be reduced.
The last government shutdown was detrimental to the NAS. Three thousand NATCA aviation safety professionals, vital to the daily function, maintenance, and safety of the system, were furloughed. NextGen programs, procedures, and technology were delayed, which cost millions of dollars. The FAA was forced to cease maintenance work on NAS equipment, and stop important projects at the nation’s busiest airports. FAA working groups were unable to meet, delaying implementation of new airspace and safety procedures.
“For years the FAA has faced an unstable, unpredictable funding stream, and each interruption has negatively affected all aspects of the FAA’s operations and planning,” said NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert. “These problems cannot continue. Air traffic controllers and other aviation safety professionals work day-in and day-out to keep our aviation system the safest, most efficient in the world; it’s in their DNA. Our members and the flying public deserve a work environment that is not plagued by uncertainty. Members of Congress cannot put the country through another shutdown. They must prevent it and find a way to provide stable funding for the NAS.”