US government shutdown could add misery to air travel


By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg warned on Wednesday that a partial government shutdown could disrupt air travel and said the government would need to furlough 1,000 air traffic controllers in training.

If Congress does not fund government operations before Saturday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates it would have to furlough more than 17,000 employees and halt the training.

“Especially when it comes to transportation, the consequences would be disruptive and dangerous,” Buttigieg said at a press conference.

Past federal government shutdowns caused “significant delays and longer wait times for travelers”, the White House said.

The U.S. Travel Association said a partial shutdown would cost the U.S. travel economy as much as $140 million a day.

During a government shutdown, the U.S. air travel system would be “hampered by more flight delays, longer screening lines and setbacks in air travel modernization,” the group said.

Air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security officers are among the government workers who would be required to keep working but would not be paid.

Earlier this month, the FAA said it would again extend cuts to minimum flight requirements at congested New York City-area airports through October 2024, citing staffing shortages. Under minimum flight requirements, airlines can lose their takeoff and landing slots at congested airports if they do not use them at least 80% of the time.

The FAA in August said it met its yearly goal of hiring 1,500 controllers but is still about 3,000 controllers behind staffing targets. About a quarter of controllers are not yet fully certified.

A government watchdog report said in June that air traffic operations were at risk. In several places, controllers were working mandatory overtime and six-day work weeks to cover shortages.

If Congress does not separately reauthorize the operations of the FAA, it would prevent the government from collecting airline ticket taxes.

In 2019 during a 35-day shutdown, the number of absences by controllers and TSA officers rose, extending checkpoint wait times at some airports. The FAA was forced to slow air traffic putting pressure on lawmakers to end the standoff.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Grant McCool)

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