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Air Traffic Controllers Will Miss 2nd Paycheck Because Of Shutdown


Major airports on the East Coast are experiencing delays today. Air traffic controllers have called in sick to work at airports including LaGuardia in New York. The White House says it's monitoring the delays. Air traffic controllers are among the of thousands of federal workers today will miss their second paycheck because of the partial government shutdown. Two competing bills meant to end the shutdown failed in the Senate yesterday. And while it appears there could be a window for negotiations, both the president and Democrats aren't giving up on their core demands.

Meanwhile, furloughed workers are paying the price. A couple weeks ago, we spoke with the executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association about the toll the shutdown is taking on its members.


PATRICIA GILBERT: Even when we do eventually come out of the shutdown, there will be a lot of things that have to be done and effects that will be felt for many, many months afterwards.

MARTIN: Air traffic controllers have now missed a second paycheck. So we're checking in again. Jim Marinitti of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association joins us now. Mr. Marinitti, thanks for being here.

JIM MARINITTI: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

MARTIN: Are people getting on airplanes today as safe as they were before the shutdown started?

MARINITTI: We will continue to maintain the highest levels of safety. But every day that this - and we are now in day 35 - that this shutdown continues, the layers of safety degrade more and more. And it is a concern. And that's why we are coming on shows like yours to express what's happening behind the curtain - because it's important that everyone knows because everyone is affected.

MARTIN: Your colleague, others at the Air Traffic Controllers Association, have been talking about the long-term effects of the shutdown. Can you - can you give us more details? I mean, we're 35 days in. If the government opens tomorrow, everything is not going to go - snap back into normal, is it?

MARINITTI: No, absolutely not. Things are very abnormal, as a matter of fact, and we can talk about this from a professional point of view, a personal point of view. There is so much that is involved in this. We work 50,000 aircraft a day - 50,000. And in most professions, if you are 99.9 percent efficient, you'd be celebrated. In our profession, that would mean we would lose 50 airplanes a day. That 0.1 percent margin of error for us is unacceptable. That is what is involved in our job.

So we have a 30-year low of staffing of certified professional controllers. That's exacerbated by the fact that the FAA Academy, where the hiring takes place, where all the training takes place, is closed - closed indefinitely. We don't know when it's going to open. There is no pipeline for the future of the air traffic control profession in this country right now. So we were just making a turn.


MARINITTI: We were in a good relationship with the FAA. Collaboration was the word of the day. And everything has come to a stop. The national airspace system in this country - which, by the way, is the gold standard for aviation safety around the world - right now is at a complete standstill.

And it really is unconscionable that it's our own government doing it to us. They've intentionally harmed the civil servants who are responsible for keeping the skies safe. And they have caused a crisis here where there was none a month ago. And that is what is so aggravating for controllers.

MARTIN: Just briefly, I want to hear from you how your air traffic controllers are holding up, in just a couple seconds.

MARINITTI: The controllers are demoralized. I mean, take one word. They are demoralized. And that is not a way to describe the people in this type of field.

MARTIN: Jim Marinitti of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, talking about the toll of the partial government shutdown on his employees. Thanks so much for your time.

MARINITTI: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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