A Government Shutdown Could Disrupt Air Travel, Officials Warn

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 ahead of a possible funding lapse this weekend.

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

“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 standoff 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 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 T.S.A. officers who would have to work without pay. The news release warned that an “extreme Republican shutdown,” as the White House has taken to describing it, risked causing delays for travelers.

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 coronavirus pandemic forced a pause in training for new controllers at the Federal Aviation Administration’s 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 F.A.A. could face further disruption because Congress also faces a deadline on Saturday to pass legislation reauthorizing the agency, and lawmakers could miss that deadline, too.

Air traffic controllers and T.S.A. 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.


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