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FAA: Air traffic sick calls force ground stop at LaGuardia Airport

Posted at 9:36 AM, Jan 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-25 13:01:10-05

(NBC New York) – A ground stop has been ordered at LaGuardia Airport because of a staffing shortage related to sick calls, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday.

The stop was ordered shortly before 10 a.m., on the 35th day of the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history. Some arriving flights are also being delayed; the FAA reports an average of 41 minute delays for LaGuardia-bound flights out of Newark International and Philadelphia International airports.

“We have experienced a slight increase in sick leave at two air traffic control facilities affecting New York and Florida,” the FAA said in a statement. “As with severe storms, we will adjust operations to a safe rate to match available controller resources. We’ve mitigated the impact by augmenting staffing, rerouting traffic, and increasing spacing between aircraft as needed.”

“The results have been minimal impacts to efficiency while maintaining consistent levels of safety in the national airspace system,” the statement continued. “The public can monitor air traffic atfly.faa.govand they should check with airline carriers for more information.”

At least one traveler tweeted that she was sitting on the tarmac for nearly an hour because of “staff shortages in air traffic control.” Making matters worse, her flight landed 45 minutes early, she said.

The air traffic halt comes on the second missed payday for 800,000 federal workers who are furloughed or working without pay.

Unions that represent air traffic controllers, flight attendants and pilots are growing concerned about safety and security of its members and passengers with the shutdown well into its fifth week.

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.”

The retired Marine, who got his start in air traffic control in 2005 when he was based at Marine Corp Base Camp Pendleton, told NBC San Diego that he and his wife are worried about how they will pay for gas, the mortgage, their daughter’s braces and their 4-year-old son Tucker’s hospital visits.

During his nearly decade and a half in the profession, he has been through three other government shutdowns but this is the first time he’s missed a paycheck.

“This is the one that’s hit us the hardest ’cause this is the first time where it’s gone where we haven’t got paid,” Kennard said.

Two Senate votes to reopen the government failed on Thursday.