Government shutdown takes a toll on air traffic controllers, group says

The partial government shutdown has now tied for the third longest on record. It's being felt from all angles. But when it comes to air travel safety, some worry about short- and long-term effects.

Furloughed Washington Center air traffic controller Richard Santa is the eastern regional vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). Santa said approximately 13,900 controllers are going to work, doing their job and are not going to get their next paycheck.

While the same number of flights will potentially operate each day, the hiring of new controllers and supplemental training has been suspended.

"Air traffic is a dynamic job, weather changes, events change, modernization needs to occur," Santa said. "And they just can't happen with a shutdown."

The number of certified controllers has fallen more than 10 percent in just the past six years and is now at a 30-year low, according to NATCA. If the staffing shortage gets worse it's possible to see increased flight delays.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the FAA assured the traveling public and said the nation's airspace system is fully safe and operational.

"The responsibility of the FAA is to ensure that everyone who is responsible for the safety of the national airspace is at work," the FAA said. "Air traffic controllers and the technicians who maintain the system and its safety are on the job."

But Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the Transportation Security Agency is also affected. On Monday, he made it clear the shutdown needs to end quickly.

"At the airports, many TSA people haven't been showing up. Many of them live paycheck to paycheck and they don't have the commuting money to get over there," he said. "Open up the government then debate border security. Don't hold the government hostage until you get your way. That's not the way to govern."