The safety of the air transport in question

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WASHINGTON | The budgetary stalemate in the United States and the paralysis of a part of the government could have serious consequences on the security in the air transport and on the u.s. economy, alarmed the trade unions in the sector who ask for a quick end to the “shutdown”.

The ministry of Transport, which ensures the control of passengers and baggage, and the department of homeland Security, responsible for border controls, are affected by the partial closure of the administrations due to lack of funding, which reaches approximately 800 000 civil servants since the 22 December.

The staff deemed “non-essential” have been placed on leave without pay, while others work without insurance to receive their salary on the due dates normal, often every fifteen days.

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The end of the “shutdown” “is a safety issue and a concern for economic,” says the Association of flight attendants (AFA), which has demonstrated Thursday in Washington with other trade unions in the sector to request the reopening of the authorities.

“Our members (of the union) and the passengers flying in a system that is less safe and secure as long as the +shutdown+ continues”, says in a letter to Congress leaders the AFA, which represents nearly 50,000 professional members.

She warned, in reference to the September 11 attacks, “against the economic hardship that may result from any breach in our security, and of any means used by those who consider the United States and their citizens as their enemies to hurt them”.

According to the AFA, the air transport industry is 5% of the u.s. GDP.

The whole chain of air transport suffers from this “shutdown”, leading the union: “the airlines do not receive their aircraft, resulting in cancellation of flights, the fatigue of air traffic controllers reduced the number of aircraft in flight and with the reduction in the number of security agents, we will know of the long queues at the checkpoints”.

The national Association of air traffic controllers (NACTA) denounced for his part in a crisis that worsens conditions that are already difficult for its nearly 20,000 members. Under the effect of the “shutdown”, the training centre for air traffic controllers in Oklahoma City is closed, and the exercises in the simulator are suspended.

“The freeze on recruitment and training will increase the current crisis of recruitment” and “will worsen a situation that was already serious,” is concerned about the NACTA.

The union’s president, Paul Rinaldi, conjures up hours of work that has already been “longer and harder” before the “shutdown”, to compensate for the decline in the numbers and warns of the fatigue of the teams: “The overtime in the form of weeks of six days or of days of ten hours have become commonplace in some of the busiest airports such as New York, Chicago, Atlanta or Dallas.”

As for the passengers, they begin to worry about long queues at control points, so that the safety federal Agency in transport (TSA) has observed an increase of the sick among the staff since the end of December.

“Even if it provide vital government services, the agents of the TSA are part of the federal employees less well paid,” recalled the democrat Bernie Thompson, chairman of the Committee on homeland security, House of representatives, in a recent letter to the leadership of the TSA.

“It is normal to see an increase in the number of agents in sick or resign as the +shutdown+ continues, because nobody expects an employee to work indefinitely without pay”, he added.

He is also worried about the risk to see the controls be relaxed “if the waiting times and the pressure of the public increase”.

The TSA, which publishes daily statistics, was keen to reassure the public about its ability to manage its workforce and the flow of travellers. On Wednesday, the rate of absenteeism of agents (more than 51,000) was 5%, against 3.6% at the same date in early 2018, and 99.9% of passengers inspected (1.74 million people) have waited less than 30 minutes.