Air Travel Is Less Safe, so Pilots Are Calling on Trump to End the Shutdown

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Airline pilots have a message for the president: for safety’s sake, end the shutdown.

In a letter addressed to President Trump, the Air Line Pilots Association, a union that represents 61,000 US and Canadian pilots, urged that immediate steps be taken to end the government shutdown due to the dangerous effect it’s had on “safety, security and efficiency of our national airspace system.”

The shutdown’s most obvious impact on air travel was seen fairly quickly with TSA workers—forced to work without knowing when or if they’ll receive a paycheck—prompting some to call in sick or to quit altogether. But the letter illuminates how the shutdown is affecting safety in ways that aren’t as visible to the public as long security lines.

According to the letter, penned by the association’s president, Joe DePete, a number of factors have compromised the safety of planes and airspace. One of the more alarming issues being that planes aren’t being inspected as thoroughly as they should be. Indeed, citing the lack of inspectors as well as “manufacturing oversight activities” the letter states that, “These safety and oversight inspections will potentially allow for the introduction of safety issues that put passengers and airline crews at risk.”

“The aviation economy is at stake. People’s livelihoods are at stake. Safety is at stake.” —Air Line Pilots Association President, Joe DePete

And it’s not just the immediate safety of air travel that has pilots concerned. There are factors that will continue to be affected even if all furloughed personnel were to return to work today. The shutdown is causing delays to the implementation of a new communications program. Air traffic controllers and pilots are unable to train properly and so will likely need to be retrained which will not only have to be done at great expense but will also delay the full implementation of what the letter calls an “important airspace system upgrade.”

Lastly, the letter calls attention to the hardship being imposed on those doing the necessary work without the safety of a paycheck. “They are dutifully providing safety of life services while facing increasingly difficult financial pressures to provide for those dependent on their paycheck,” states the letter. “The pressure these civil servants are facing at home should not be ignored.”

The letter itself was dated January 2, but concerned members of the aviation industry and federal employees continue to make their concerns heard. With the shutdown drawing a close to its third week, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, along with other industry representatives and associations, held a rally today in front of the capitol in order to protest the shutdown. While speaking at the rally, DePete put it starkly, stating that, “The aviation economy is at stake. People’s livelihoods are at stake. Safety is at stake.”