Federal aviation workers call for an end to US government shutdown

Global Business

U.S. aviation industry groups are calling for President Trump and Congressional leaders to come together and end the partial government shutdown.

They say the action has already inflicted real damage to the country’s aviation system and warn the very safety of air travel is at risk.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

Brent Weckwerth is a stay at home dad these days.

“Right now I read a lot of news,” said Weckwerth, a Federal Aviation Administration safety inspector in Colorado. “I want to know more of why I’m in the situation that I’m in. Why my family’s in the situation… You know why is my work, why doesn’t it matter?”

Weckwerth is one of more than 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration employees who inspect and certify general aviation and commercial aircraft, pilots, flight instructors and repair stations. They’ve all been grounded by the U.S. government shutdown.

“I’ve been with the FAA for 18 years,” said Phil Potter, a fellow Colorado F.A.A. employee who inspects air ambulances. He’s also out of work without pay.

“Well, I’m not pleased,” said Potter, when asked about the shutdown. “I wish I was out there doing my job.”

The political stalemate over President Trump’s attempt to beef up U.S.-Mexico border security with a wall is a slap, some said, at workers who are entrusted with helping keep the skies safe.

“That seems pretty blatant yeah,” Weckwerth said.

“We should be working, we should be out there doing what we get paid for, to make sure aviation is safe,” Potter said.

“I think that it’s creating a lot more problems than it’s solving,” said Littleton, Colorado-based Tom Delgado, who trains air traffic controllers, most of whom, because they’re considered essential employees, remain on the job without pay. But workers who provide control towers with weather data and fix equipment, and trainees who help share the workload are not around and Delgado said that hurts.

“We’re not as precise as we should be with our weather information and airplanes have to fly through weather,” Delgado said. “If we have computer glitches and we don’t have enough technicians to fix it, it could get really ugly… It makes everybody who’s fully certified, their jobs more difficult.”

Besides safety, aviation professionals are also very concerned right now about the basics: putting food on the table, the impact the government shutdown has on their families.

“You know my kids for instance, they’re a little bit nervous, as I can expect,” Weckwerth said.

“By the end of the month I’ll be in trouble,” Potter added. He’ll miss his first paycheck and said he has just one option if he misses any more.

“Well, I’m going to have to look for a job.” he said.

“It’s pretty tough when you’re sitting there and you’re working a lot of airplanes and then you have to go home and your wife will say or your significant other will say so are we going to get paid and you have to tell them no,” Delgado said. He pointed out that aviation-related jobs were stressful even before the shutdown.

“That’s going to add even more stress to the situation,” he said.

Most previous government shutdowns ended relatively quickly. He and others in this critical industry worry this time could be different.

“I’m getting concerned,” Delgado said. “Nobody is seeing any light at the end of the tunnel.”