This morning, the Federal Aviation Administration halted flights into LaGuardia Airport due to an increase of employees working at air traffic control facilities taking sick leave. The airport has since reopened.
Original story below.
The Federal Aviation Administration has reportedly halted flights into LaGuardia Airport, one of the busiest airports in the United States and one of the three main airports serving the New York City area, because of air traffic control staffing shortages. The United States has entered into its 35th day of the government shutdown.
Airport status information provided by the FAA’s air traffic control system command center states that there is a “traffic management program in effect for traffic arriving LaGuardia Airport. This is causing some arriving flights to be delayed an average of 41 minutes.” It cites “staffing” as being the reason.
Other airports supposedly affected by staffing shortages include Reagan National Airport outside Washington, D.C., Newark International Airport which also serves the New York City area, Philadelphia International Airport and Tampa International Airport.
Legally, federal personnel deemed “essential” like air traffic controllers and TSA agents cannot go on strike, however they can all call out sick at once. It’s unclear at this moment if that’s the reason for the cancellations and delays, though it may be a culprit.
There will almost assuredly be a ripple effect, as New York’s three airports operate at almost capacity even on a perfect day. With the other airports in the area not only forced to pick up the slack, but also short on staff, this nightmare is just beginning.
The delays are apparently due to staffing issues at an unnamed FAA regional air traffic control center. The air traffic union leader told CNN’s Jim Sciutto that “this is a direct result of [the] shutdown.”
There are currently no signs of the shutdown lifting. This halt comes on the second payday missed for some 800,000 federal workers who are either working without pay or furloughed, reports NBC Washington. From the story:
The presidents of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Air Line Pilots Association and Association of Flight Attendants cautioned in a join statement that the airline industry “cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break. It is unprecedented.”
Federal workers say going without pay is grinding them down, and they’re not sure how much longer they can take it.
“At work, the morale is really low,” said Tyler Kennard, an air traffic controller in San Diego. “It’s actually more stressful now with this government shutdown than it was when I was in a war zone in Iraq doing the same job.”
In an interview with our sister site Splinter, the leader of the Association of Flight Attendants Sara Nelson said that, due to the shutdown, the situation is “rapidly approaching a breaking point.”
The FAA’s statement on the traffic delays notes that increased sick leave has affected two air traffic control facilities for New York and Florida, according to CNN’s Phil Mattingly.
It’s unclear what is meant by “augmenting staffing,” however.
Update 10:37 a.m. EST: While on the Brian Lehrer Show, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “If our airports are not functioning people will die. What a tragedy. We’re supposed to be the greatest country on earth and we can’t keep the airports open.”
Update 10:39 a.m. EST: The FAA has released its official statement:
“We have experienced a slight increase in sick leave at two facilities. We are mitigating the impact by augmenting staffing, rerouting traffic, and increasing spacing between aircraft when needed.”
Update 10:46 a.m. EST: The FAA has reportedly said that the ground stop at LaGuardia has ended, according to CNBC.
Update 10:48 a.m. EST: A screenshot from the FAA’s airport status information tracker shows that delays have grown to an average of one hour and 26 minutes.
This is a breaking news story and is being updated.