Flights delayed at three major US airports because of staffing issues caused by shutdown

NEW YORK -- Air traffic is delayed at LaGuardia Airport in New York, Philadelphia International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey due to staffing issues at a Federal Aviation Administration regional air traffic control center, according to the FAA status website.

Flights into the three major airports are delayed Friday morning by an average of 41 minutes, according to the FAA.

Departing flights from Philadelphia and Newark are delayed between an hour and an hour and 15 minutes, and LaGuardia departures delayed between 15 and 30 minutes, the FAA said.

"We have experienced a slight increase in sick leave at two air traffic control facilities affecting New York and Florida," the FAA said in a statement.

"As with severe storms, we will adjust operations to a safe rate to match available controller resources. We've mitigated the impact by augmenting staffing, rerouting traffic, and increasing spacing between aircraft as needed."

The news comes after the air traffic controllers union president warned this week that the shutdown is posing serious safety risks.

Paul Rinaldi, the President of the Air Traffic Controllers Association, told CNN's Chris Cuomo on "Cuomo Prime Time" Wednesday night that air traffic workers are making "routine mistakes" due to high levels of stress caused by the shutdown.

"The biggest toll I have right now is the human toll, the fatigue in my work environment right now where I'm seeing routine mistakes because they're thinking about which credit cards can I consolidate up for zero interest?" Rinaldi said.

Rinaldi also pointed to growing equipment concerns caused by staffing shortages at air traffic controlling facilities.

"Our equipment is not being fixed," Rinaldi said. "Equipment that we're relying on to make sure that planes line up on the right surface that they're supposed to land on ... equipment like being able to relay to the pilot that dangerous weather is ahead."

Such equipment failures are already happening, Rinaldi said.

"Radars have gone down. They're not being brought up. That's how we get information from the radar systems," Rinaldi said. "This is a deep concern and it can't go on for months."

Earlier on Wednesday, Rinaldi joined the presidents of two other aviation unions -- the Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA -- in a statement urging Congress and the White House to fund the government due to "unprecedented" risks to the air safety environment.

"In our risk averse industry, we cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break," the statement reads.

The statement said that major airports were already seeing security checkpoint closures, with many more potentially to follow. Additionally, the aviation professionals raised concerns about cybersecurity as workers remain furloughed and cyberteams understaffed.

Staffing at air traffic control facilities is currently at a 30-year low, according to the release, and workers are struggling to maintain the system "by working overtime, including 10-hour days and six-day workweeks at many of our nation's busiest facilities."

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman sought to assuage concerns Thursday morning about air safety.

"The FAA continually reviews and analyzes the performance of the national airspace system to assess its safety and efficiency," the spokesman said. "We have not observed any appreciable difference in performance over the last several weeks compared to the same periods during the previous two years. We remain grateful to the air traffic controllers for their professional and dedication to their safety mission."

The spokesman also said the "nation's airspace system is safe."

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 

 

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