January 07, 2019

The US government has been partially shutdown since midnight on Dec. 22. Every year, the United States Congress appropriates funds for federal agencies to operate in each fiscal year. In the absence of either a signed appropriations bill or a continuing resolution by Congress and the president, funding for government operations is ceased. During a shutdown furlough, essential employees are expected to continue working. Government functions relating to emergency and disaster assistance, criminal investigations, air traffic control, protection of federal property and other activities continue to operate, although with a reduced workforce and without pay.

As the shutdown continues, air travel safety is at risk.


Air Travel Among the Most Impacted

In the near-term, the US government shutdown will create more travel delays and hassles than safety or security issues.

Even before the shutdown, controllers have needed to work longer and harder to make up for the staffing shortfall.  -NATCA President, Paul Rinaldi

If the shutdown is protracted in terms of weeks, there will be air travel safety concerns which the government should be able to manage by reducing traffic volume – that is, cancelling flights. The primary concern at this moment, which will significantly increase the risk of an incident, is the availability of federal safety inspectors. If planes are not getting carrier inspection oversight, then the flying public needs to be concerned. 

If the shutdown is protracted in terms of months, then there will be a significant increase of risk of a major incident unless drastic measures are taken to significantly reduce the volume of flights throughout the National Airspace System. The volume of flights needs to be managed against the availability of qualified people to staff all operational elements of the end-to-end system. At some point, this could require the government to shutdown airports to shift staff to properly keep other airports operating. 

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