Government shutdown eliminates big portion of FAA safety operations in airports

'Many things could be overlooked': Louisville airport FAA staff down by 90 employees during shutdown

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The partial government shutdown still has 800,000 employees without work, and on Friday they miss a paycheck.

Some of those furloughed employees include FAA workers tasked with keeping airports and aircraft safe.

Local union leaders said the list of issues that has grown due to the shutdown is starting to snowball into a situation that will be hard to bounce back from.

“Usually every accident that you see, if you go back and look, it’s a little thing that they didn’t think would mean anything, but was overlooked,” Chuck Morrison, with the local Professional Aviation Safety Specialists Union, said. “Now, we’re in an environment where so many things could be overlooked in the technical inspections.”

Morrison said 90 Louisville employees in charge of aircraft safety inspections and oversight are not working, so FAA safety standards are not being double checked.

They look at both passenger planes and cargo planes. Morrison said a big portion of those employees oversee UPS operations in Louisville.

These inspectors look at the maintenance and repair of planes as well.

“Something like a repair part that comes in that you put on a plane, if it hasn’t been overseen correctly, then that could be a bad part potentially put on an airplane,” Morrison said.

It’s now up to the individual airline companies to make sure their aircraft can pass inspection and are safe.

"You would hope that the airlines are responsible and meet safety standards,” Morrsion said. “The problem is, you need the oversight to make sure those things are done. You have the system in place for a reason, when you take it out, you affect the integrity of the system.”

Along with air traffic controllers, Morrison is one of the employees deemed essential right now. He is not being paid.

Morrison is a technician that maintains all the air traffic control systems -- everything from the lights on the runway, to the power to run the air traffic control tower, as well as the vital radar and communication systems.

“A lot of that is technical equipment that needs to be modified -- all the hardware and software -- on a regular basis,” Morrison said.

During the shutdown, Morrison said all modification and updating has virtually stopped and the longer this goes on the worse the situation becomes.

Also frozen during the shutdown is the training and hiring of new employees. The FAA academy in Atlanta is closed. These employees are desperately needed.

Nikki Allen, with the National Air Traffic Controller Association, said the number of controllers is at a 30 year low and this freeze on training and hiring will hurt chances to recuperate numbers.

Current employees who are working can't take any paid leave, like a sick day, in fear of not getting backpay for that time. It has not been guaranteed with the shutdown.

Morrison said a lot of employees are coming in sick, and that can affect their work. It is a stressful job with a lot of pressure already -- this just adds to it.

Administrative personnel are also furloughed, so a backup of paper work is starting to build, preventing anything from returning back to normal when things do start back up again.

"Anytime you’re put in an environment like this, where you have all your technical safety inspectors made to stay at home and they can’t do their job to oversee the FAA regulations of safety for all the commercial airlines, you have no modifications being done on air traffic control systems and people not being paid are feeling pressured to come in sick, you have all your administrative people furloughed and the support operations that they provide,” Morrison summed up. “You add all those up, it’s going to jeopardize the integrity and the safety of the national airspace system.”

Once things open back up, Morrison said it will take a while for operations to get back to normal. There’s going to be an enormous back up of administrative work, all those essential systems updates, and training.

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