As many of you know, I spent over 34 years of my life performing the duties of Air Traffic Control, and I’ve been training air traffic controllers since September, 2011. Also, I’m sure many of you have noticed that I seldom blog anything political. That’s by design. Because of the highly polarized political environment in which we find ourselves today, it just doesn’t pay to get in the crossfire.
But enough is enough. Today, a ground stop was initiated into LaGuardia Airport. Flow control restrictions have been implemented for Philadelphia International and Newark Liberty International. The reason? Not enough controllers showing up because many can no longer afford to go to work for zero pay. Today, by the way, marks the second payday in a row that controllers have received $0.00 on their pay statements. That’s over a month without one dime being paid to them for performing one of the most stressful jobs in existence.
And for what? No, not a wall, if that’s your answer. The wall was a non-issue for the two full years that Donald Trump had majorities in both houses of Congress. At any time Republican senators and congressmen could have inserted wall funding into any one of dozens of bill reconciliations between the two houses of Congress, and there there would have been nothing Democrats could have done to prevent it. But even Republican senators knew an unguarded wall in a remote area is a waste of money, so they opted otherwise.
Indeed, as recently as December 19, a mere 38 days ago, President Trump was onboard with a short term spending bill passed by the Senate—a spending bill that had no funding for an extension of existing urban wall into remote areas. But a funny thing happened on the way to the House of Representatives. Ann Coulter publicly attacked Donald Trump. By the end of the day, President Trump reversed course, and on December 22 a quarter of the government went unfunded. Ironically, for someone who now claims the wall is essential to national security, the unfunded agencies include Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, the F.B.I., the U.S. Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and, yes, the Federal Aviation Administration and the air traffic controllers who work for it.
So, here we are some 35 days and two paychecks later. Air terminal passenger inspection stations are closing because TSA agents cannot afford gasoline to get to work. For the first time in history, a uniformed branch of the U.S. military is going unpaid. And, now, airports are experiencing delays, and even ground stops, because controllers are reaching their financial limits. If you think that’s bad, consider this: while controllers are considered essential, and must work even without pay, their support staff are not. Those staff employees are furloughed and sitting at home.
“So what,” you may ask. Well, next week is Super Bowl Sunday. And with Super Bowl Sunday arrive a lot of aircraft. Airliners. General aviation. Corporate aircraft, Air taxis. All streaming into (and later out of) Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. As any controller who has worked aircraft on Super Bowl Sunday (or any major sporting event) can tell you, weeks and weeks of pre-planning and inter-facility coordination goes into handling the massive influx of aircraft that occurs during such an event. But the people who handle that planning and coordination have been furloughed since just before Christmas.
So, even if, by some miracle, staff were recalled tomorrow, the window of opportunity to provide for smooth air traffic operations during Super Bowl Sunday has long passed . . . assuming, of course, there are enough controllers around next week to even keep open Atlanta Int’l Control Tower, Atlanta Terminal Radar Approach Control, and the Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center. Without all three of those facilities operating at 100% and in a complete, coordinated harmony, total chaos in the skies within hundreds of miles of Atlanta’s airspace is a certainty.
And it’s going to get worse from here as the ACHDTB* Government Shutdown continues. Several air traffic controllers around the nation have already resigned, three from the Dallas-Fort Worth area today alone. Others, preparing to jump ship, have submitted applications to air traffic service providers operating overseas. One more missed paycheck, two on the outside, and my prediction is that the system collapses, taking with it some 5% of the U.S. economy.
Senator Mitch McConnell has the power to end the ACHDTB* Government Shutdown, but he’s afraid to buck the president. Senator McConnell could, tomorrow, put together a veto-proof majority to pass government funding to end the ACHDTB* Government Shutdown — a shutdown that we now know has nothing to do with a wall and everything to do with Donald Trump being publicly challenged by a woman.
But he won’t. And the *Ann Coulter-has-Donald Trump’s–Balls Government Shutdown continues as a direct result. Prepare for the crash.
© 2019 R. Doug Wicker
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