Top airline pilot: Trump shutdown making it dangerous to fly
Because of the Trump shutdown there is no money to pay air traffic controllers who normally regulate traffic from towers like these all over the country. Without full staffing the chances of catastrophic accidents increase, the airline pilots say. | Jeff Chiu/AP

WASHINGTON—Call it “fly the unfriendly skies.” On his second day in the union’s top job, the new president of the Air Line Pilots Association told GOP President Donald Trump that his shutdown/lockout of federal air transportation workers endangers air traffic safety.

“The nation’s airspace system is a complex transportation network that involves government and industry partnerships to function properly, and the disruptions being caused by the shutdown are threatening the safe operations of this network,” said Capt. Joe DePete, who took over ALPA’s top job on New Year’s Day.

“I’ve sent letters to the White House and congressional leaders calling for an immediate end to the government #shutdown because the safety, security and the efficiency of our national airspace are being impacted. #KeepFlyingSafe,” DePete tweeted.

The executive board of the 61,000-member union elected DePete, a FedEx Express pilot, to the top job in October. He succeeded Capt. Tim Canoli, who praised the board for “democracy in action,” implying the two faced off against each other. DePete had been ALPA first vice president and its national safety coordinator.

While the pilots themselves are not involved in Trump’s lockout, the federal workers they depend upon are. The feds work for the Transportation and Homeland Security Departments, two of the unfunded agencies. Trump began the lockout at midnight Dec. 21.

The Transportation Department includes the Federal Aviation Administration, which runs the air traffic system and whose workers also certify the mechanics who check planes on the ground. The Homeland Security Department includes the 44,000 airport screeners.

Because of the shutdown federal inspectors who make sure that mechanics are doing repair jobs correctly on grounded planes are not available. | David Zalubowski/AP

The FAA’s air traffic controllers and the screeners are still on the job, but not getting paid. They’re among the 420,000 “essential” unpaid workers. FAA trainers and air safety inspectors are locked out.

The lack of FAA inspectors means air traffic control infrastructure may not be performing at peak levels, DePete told Trump. And aircraft oversight – monitoring mechanics and maintenance –“either stop or are significantly reduced,” he wrote.

Trump declares he’ll continue the lockout and payless paydays for months or years until Congress genuflects to his $5.7 billion-plus for his Mexican Wall. He wants the funds in the Homeland Security money bill.

The new ruling U.S. House Democrats, responding to constituents who call the wall racist – and to huge public majorities against the lockout and the wall — are replying “no.”

On Jan. 8, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., compared the shutdown/lockout to “an act of kidnapping or terrorism.” And if Trump declares “a national emergency” to divert money to build the Mexican Wall, Hoyer said that would be like “governments declaring martial law and justifying them in doing whatever they want to do.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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