FAA Shutdown Hurting Local Airports, Workers

About 74,000 workers won't be getting a paycheck until September as the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration drags on. A dispute in Congress over the FAA's funding re-authorization has led to the suspension of 241 airport construction projects, affecting at least 70,000 construction workers, according to the US DOT. In addition, about 4,000 FAA workers have been furloughed.

Dan Sefko, president of the Eastern Region Engineers & Architects at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, says he and his co-workers are hurting. "Anger, dismay, disappointment and worry" are the words Sefko used to describe his feeling and those of his co-workers, who have been furloughed since July 23.

"All of us have mortgages we have to pay, we all have car payments. My members have families that they have to feed. A lot of them are worried. There's fear," Sefko said.

Speaking before meeting with cabinet officials at the White House Wednesday, President Barack Obama called the shutdown "lose-lose-lose," but said "my expectation and I think the American people's expectation is this gets resolved before the end of the week."

The President said this could be done even if Congress doesn't come back from recess. "They could do it through a procedural agreement -- basically through unanimous consent," he said.

The FAA shut down after the GOP-led Congress inserted a policy change into a routine funding authorization. Senate Democrats balked, accusing Republicans of trying to gain leverage in a larger dispute over labor law. Neither party has shown signs of relenting.

Meanwhile, several projects at LaGuardia Airport have been put on hold:

  • New runway status lights at LaGuardia Airport to let pilots know they're on the correct runway.
  • Demolition of an old traffic control tower that is blocking the sight lines of controllers in a new tower when they look down to monitor certain taxiway intersections.
  • The placement of $10 million worth of security bollards around the Central Terminal building.

Beyond LaGuardia, the region's major radar control facility in Garden City is not getting hardware and software upgrades to give air traffic controllers better information when guiding planes into and out of New York's airspace.

NextGen technology, a long-term project, has also been moth-balled. That program aims to replace ground-based tracking of aircraft to satellite and GPS tracking. "That will will allow more precise routes and greater efficiency and cost-savings," Sefko said. "That means shorter routes for the flying public."

At JFK Airport, taxiway Y is not getting its potholes filled and old asphalt replaced. And half-completed improvements to an air traffic controller's break room have exiled controllers, who have strict rest requirements, to an old office.

    At Teterboro Airport, a $20 million rehab of two of its runways has been stopped.

    Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was combative when CNBC's Bill Griffeth asked him what it will take to end the shutdown. "Congress should do what they’ve done on 20 other occasions, and pass a clean bill," said LaHood, referring to labor provisions and funding cuts that were added to the bill and have been bogging it down.

    LaHood is urging those amendments be removed and the bill passed in its "clean" form, as Congress has done twenty times since 2007.

    "They’re making great speeches but what they’ve done is put 80,000 people out of work," LaHood said. "They should pass a clean bill, then they can argue about the details after their summer vacations. They should get out of their RV’s or wherever they are right now and pass a clean bill."

    For continuing coverage of this story, visit TransportationNation.org.