Pilot: Shutdown adding new risk to air travel

Nobody wants to hear a recording of, "Sorry, we're closed due to nonpayment." If you're an airline pilot re...

Posted: Jan 9, 2019 7:54 AM
Updated: Jan 9, 2019 7:54 AM

Nobody wants to hear a recording of, "Sorry, we're closed due to nonpayment." If you're an airline pilot requesting an approach clearance, this would be especially troublesome to say the least. We have no checklists for such things.

Fortunately, that scenario will never occur. Air traffic controllers are an essential government service, so airplanes will still be flying despite the government shutdown. But air traffic controllers are people, not robots, and soon the situation will begin to take its toll, potentially on our safety. As a veteran airline pilot I can confirm that we will all have to be especially vigilant with all aspects of aviation operations the longer this situation continues.

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The controllers will soon be missing paychecks, and nobody wants to work for free. This will add to the burden of an already stressful job. Controllers will be fighting fatigue and the additional stress of not knowing how their mortgages and other bills will be paid.

Some of the Federal Aviation Administration staff members who support the controllers may not be available. New controllers who are learning the ropes often help veteran controllers with routine tasks. Unfortunately, the new kids have been furloughed. Adding insult to injury, the Oklahoma City training academy for controllers has closed during the shutdown, meaning the problem of chronic understaffing won't get better soon.

What does this all mean for the airways? Controllers will likely increase the distance between planes while they are flying and when they are taking off and landing. This gives controllers more time to sequence the aircraft, and increases safety. But it also means delays on the ground.

Other potential effects? The FAA is responsible for inspecting and policing each airline's operations, through principal operations inspectors assigned to each carrier. The shutdown may well have curtailed that oversight with temporary staff reductions. The FAA inspectors are also responsible for overseeing a type of pilot training called check rides. If these rides are postponed, so is the ability for some new pilots to become qualified on the aircraft for which they have trained, mostly affecting new captains. This could create a crew scheduling problem, which could have a domino effect on the airlines' ability to schedule flights.

There's plenty of concern among my (former) fellow pilots. The Airline Pilots Association, which represents about 61,000 pilots, wrote a letter to the President on January 2, asking him to end the shutdown. The association is concerned the situation is adversely affecting the "safety, security and efficiency of our national airspace system."

And finally, a growing number of Transportation Security Administration agents are apparently calling in sick, according to CNN's reporting. This means longer security lines. You can't blame these folks for a deteriorating attitude. The bigger concern is not the security rat maze, but rather the quality of the screening itself. TSA employees are good people doing thankless jobs. I would like to believe that regardless of the unfortunate circumstances, compromising security is the furthest from their minds.

Are the skies still safe? Yes, for now, only because the people protecting your safety are professionals. But they are human, so let's not push our luck with a protracted government shutdown. The next time you fly, be grateful for their dedication, and thank them if you can.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 665285

Reported Deaths: 12697
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion910581653
Lake48637887
Allen36050641
Hamilton32231398
St. Joseph30243514
Elkhart25484420
Vanderburgh21315382
Tippecanoe20185205
Johnson16425361
Porter16053276
Hendricks15899301
Clark12032182
Madison11779321
Vigo11672231
Monroe10394164
Delaware9879179
LaPorte9821198
Howard9095199
Kosciusko8588111
Bartholomew7504147
Warrick7445153
Hancock7439134
Floyd7255172
Wayne6654192
Grant6453157
Boone611991
Morgan6118126
Dubois5933112
Dearborn550669
Cass5477100
Marshall5446105
Henry542695
Noble510978
Jackson465567
Shelby462591
Lawrence4193113
Gibson404985
Harrison402764
Clinton397053
Montgomery390584
DeKalb387178
Knox357885
Miami357863
Whitley350638
Huntington348377
Steuben339855
Wabash333076
Putnam331960
Ripley327862
Adams325149
Jasper318443
White298052
Jefferson295974
Daviess285696
Fayette272656
Decatur271388
Greene262280
Posey261432
Wells258975
Scott251450
LaGrange242170
Clay241444
Randolph225877
Spencer219330
Jennings216344
Washington213027
Sullivan203639
Fountain202542
Starke189251
Owen183453
Fulton179637
Jay178528
Carroll176919
Perry173836
Orange171351
Rush165422
Vermillion161542
Franklin159735
Tipton149241
Parke140116
Pike128433
Blackford120627
Pulaski107544
Newton96732
Brown95240
Benton92413
Crawford92113
Martin80314
Warren75914
Switzerland7558
Union67510
Ohio54111
Unassigned0434

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 976230

Reported Deaths: 17501
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1127971251
Cuyahoga966701881
Hamilton737981067
Montgomery47453923
Summit40562831
Butler35750531
Lucas35685720
Stark29548826
Warren22539275
Lorain22149424
Mahoning19556551
Lake18509332
Clermont18484205
Delaware16576121
Licking15063194
Fairfield14622188
Trumbull14397424
Greene13636221
Medina13484237
Clark12352256
Wood11633170
Portage11104172
Allen10815216
Richland10360188
Miami10055194
Muskingum8224117
Columbiana8165210
Pickaway8085111
Tuscarawas8065232
Marion8015127
Wayne7915199
Erie6948146
Ross6170132
Geauga6105142
Hancock6021121
Ashtabula5998154
Scioto599188
Lawrence527186
Union515641
Darke5046116
Belmont4990137
Huron4848108
Jefferson4831137
Sandusky4791112
Washington473696
Seneca4720111
Athens465849
Mercer459181
Auglaize456682
Shelby442579
Knox4053105
Putnam400393
Madison394755
Fulton382561
Ashland381983
Brown374352
Defiance373588
Crawford359598
Logan356973
Preble353887
Clinton342055
Highland328451
Ottawa325171
Williams303268
Jackson291246
Champaign290149
Guernsey288745
Perry270748
Fayette269843
Morrow261137
Henry247361
Hardin246859
Holmes244097
Coshocton240056
Van Wert230257
Gallia223538
Adams218139
Pike216728
Wyandot212050
Hocking194954
Carroll181743
Paulding160834
Meigs136031
Noble129233
Monroe117137
Morgan101620
Harrison100731
Vinton76613
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