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Aviation Workers Caution Another Shutdown Could Affect Holiday Travel


Among other things, the partial government shutdown affected aviation security. Though fears of another shutdown have eased, fears of security problems have not. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Throughout the recent five-week partial government shutdown, air traffic controllers continued to work without getting paid - until day 35. That's when a handful of controllers called in as unable to work at two East Coast air traffic control facilities. Short staffed, the FAA had to dramatically slow air traffic in the heavily congested northeastern U.S. airspace, grounding planes at New York's LaGuardia and other airports. Lengthy flight delays and cancellations mounted. And within a few hours, President Trump and Congress finally ended the shutdown - but only for three weeks.

PETER DEFAZIO: This is all just abysmally stupid.

SCHAPER: Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio chairs the House Transportation Committee.

DEFAZIO: It's absolutely absurd to think that we're going to allow another shutdown of air traffic control and the FAA.

SCHAPER: DeFazio wants to insulate the FAA and keep its employees working and paid during a shutdown.

DEFAZIO: We collect the tax every day. And that tax was collected every day during the shutdown and went into the Airport & Airway Trust Fund. We should just allow the agency to draw on that trust fund and never shut down again.

SCHAPER: DeFazio has a bill to do just that, and his committee is holding a hearing on it today. But the legislation cannot become law in time to prevent another possible shutdown this weekend. And that's raising safety concerns again. Mike Perrone is president of the union representing airplane inspectors, safety technicians and other regulators.

MIKE PERRONE: Every day that goes by that people are not working, doing their jobs or doing them under stressful conditions, the possibility of safety being eroded is definitely there.

SCHAPER: And if airline crews believe safety is compromised, they won't fly, says Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants.

SARA NELSON: Flight attendants are going to watch very carefully, and we are not going to come to work in an unsafe system.

SCHAPER: The flight attendants and other unions are planning rallies in the coming days in hopes of increasing pressure to avert another shutdown. David Schaper, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIFTY EARTH'S "VENTILATE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.