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Biden administration warns government shutdown could disrupt air travel

Biden administration warns government shutdown could disrupt air travel

International Desk

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration offered new warnings on Wednesday that a government shutdown could disrupt the nation’s air travel system, part of an effort to lay blame at the feet of House Republicans before a possible funding lapse this weekend.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said a shutdown would jeopardise work the administration has done to address a shortage in air traffic controllers, modernise aviation technology and reduce flight delays as well as cancellations that have plagued travellers.

“There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time for a government shutdown, especially when it comes to transportation,” Mr Buttigieg said at a news conference at the Transportation Department’s headquarters.

“The consequences would be disruptive and dangerous.”

Government funding will expire at midnight on Saturday if Congress does not agree on a stopgap spending measure by then.

House Republicans have been unable to resolve a stand-off with far-right lawmakers in their ranks, and Mr Buttigieg assailed the party for bringing the government within days of a shutdown.

If funding lapses, federal workers will be furloughed or forced to work without pay.

Air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers would continue to work, but they would not be paid until the shutdown ends.

Hours before Mr Buttigieg spoke, the White House issued a news release with a state-by-state breakdown of the roughly 13,000 air traffic controllers and 50,000 TSA officers who would have to work without pay.

The news release warned an “extreme Republican shutdown”, as the White House has taken to describing it, risked causing delays for travellers.

A shutdown could also disrupt the government’s efforts to address an existing shortage of air traffic controllers, which has already resulted in cutbacks to flight schedules at airports in the New York City area.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced a pause in training for new controllers at the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) academy in Oklahoma City, drying up the pipeline of new workers, and a shutdown would put a halt to training once again.

Separate from the potential funding lapse, the FAA could face further disruption because Congress also faces a deadline on Saturday to pass legislation reauthorising the agency, and lawmakers could miss that deadline too.

Air traffic controllers and TSA agents were forced to work without pay during the 35-day partial government shutdown in late 2018 and early 2019, and the effects on the nation’s air travel system drew significant attention as the weeks passed.

TSA saw an increase in unscheduled absences, resulting in longer wait times at security checkpoints at some airports. And on what ended up being the last day of the shutdown, staffing shortages at two air traffic control facilities caused significant flight delays in the north-east. Then President Donald Trump agreed to reopen the government later that day.

Source: The New York Times

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