WASHINGTON – The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) today issued this statement from NATCA President Paul Rinaldi regarding the shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that began at 12:01 a.m. EST today. (Note: The FAA shutdown did not begin Saturday with the rest of the ongoing government shutdown, because the Agency had operations budget funds available to continue both excepted and non-excepted activities. Activities paid out of other FAA budget accounts continue to have funds available.)

“This marks the third government shutdown in 2018. The shutdown and continued lack of a stable, predictable funding stream is no way to operate and grow the world’s safest, most complex, most efficient airspace system.

“The air traffic controllers and traffic management coordinators that NATCA represents remain on the job, dedicated to the safety of every flight, but they don’t know when they will receive their next paycheck. Additionally, approximately 3,000 NATCA-represented aviation safety professionals, who work across our bargaining units at air traffic control and other FAA facilities, will be furloughed at midnight tonight. Among these professionals are staff support specialists who work at air traffic control facilities to provide tactical, strategic, and administrative support of training, quality assurance, traffic management, airspace and procedures, operational automation, military operations, and safety management system. Other furloughed aviation safety professionals include aircraft certification engineers, who assist in design, production approvals, and airworthiness certification of aircraft and their components, engineers who design and construct critical infrastructure necessary for safe flight operations including air traffic control towers, radar maintenance and installation, navigational aids, and communications systems, and flight test pilots.

“This shutdown, whether it lasts one hour, one day, one week, or more, reinforces our strong belief that the status quo is broken. When these aviation safety professionals are prohibited from working as a result of political dysfunction, the flying public and the National Airspace System suffer. Air traffic control is very much a team effort, and the worst part of a shutdown, beyond furloughs and an uncertain date of their next paycheck, is the fact that many key members of the team are sent home. That hurts the operation.

“The FAA requires a stable, predictable funding stream in order to adequately support air traffic control services, staffing, hiring and training, long-term and NextGen modernization projects, preventative maintenance, and ongoing modernization to the physical infrastructure.”

Effects of the shutdown include, but are not limited to:

  • The enroute Data Communications (Data Comm) program, which is in the initial stage of deployment. This stage sets the foundation for all 20 Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC) to be able to utilize the functionality of Data Comm. With the shutdown, training and deployment schedules for both air traffic controllers and pilots are being negatively affected because of the integrated schedule.
  • Closure of the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City that provides initial classroom training for the approximately 1,430 new hires training to become air traffic controllers. A significant amount of on the job training at air traffic control facilities also stops during a shutdown. Stopping the hiring and training pipeline for even one day is detrimental to the urgent need to ease a controller staffing crisis that has resulted in the lowest level of fully certified controllers in 30 years.
  • Stoppage of many other NextGen air traffic control modernization programs such as Terminal Flight Data Manager (TFDM), which hold great potential for increasing the efficiency of flights in the airport surface and terminal airspace. Other flight efficiency-enhancing programs like redesigning flight paths in large Metroplex programs near busy airspace like Las Vegas, South Florida, and Denver would also come to a halt.
  • Stoppage of important work in the FAA’s Aircraft Certification division, including work on all Airworthiness Directives that mandate safety fixes/changes to existing aircraft.
  • Work stoppage on major airport and air traffic control construction projects, like the new air traffic control tower and terminal radar approach control in Charlotte that was scheduled to open in January. Critical work is ongoing to ensure the tower is operational, but the project will now be delayed.
  • Work stoppage on building modernization projects, like at Seattle Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZSE), which is responsible for the airspace above a large swath of the Pacific Northwest. Controllers and other aviation safety professionals at ZSE were instrumental in ensuring the safety of the airspace and all aircraft when an airline employee stole a plane from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport last August and flew it erratically until eventually crashing in a wooded island in Puget Sound. The required modernization work includes a complex and critical replacement of the cooling system for the equipment that controllers use to safely work traffic.

MORE INFORMATION: Doug Church, Deputy Director of Public Affairs; 301-346-8245, dchurch@natcadc.org.

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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is a labor union and aviation safety organization in the United States that represents nearly 20,000 highly skilled air traffic controllers, engineers, and other aviation safety-related professionals. NATCA was certified in 1987 by the Federal Labor Relations Authority to be the exclusive bargaining representative for air traffic controllers employed by the Federal Aviation Administration. Today, NATCA is one of the strongest labor unions in the federal sector and represents a range of aviation safety professionals in 15 FAA bargaining units, 4 Department of Defense air traffic facilities, and 102 federal contract towers. These air traffic controllers and other aviation safety professionals make vital contributions to the U.S. economy and make modern life possible by coordinating the safe, orderly, and expeditious movement of nearly one billion aviation passengers and millions of tons of freight within the National Airspace System each year. NATCA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.