JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The National Air Traffic Controllers Association at Jacksonville International Airport organized a demonstration Wednesday to raise awareness on the effects of the government shutdown.
Employees and volunteers passed out handouts and rallied near the baggage claim area. They will continue to hand out flyers in the baggage claim area until the shutdown ends.
Under the law, federal employees are not allowed to strike, but they can try to raise awareness.
The shutdown has hit aviation hard. About 10,000 FAA air traffic controllers are on the job but are not getting paid, The Associated Press reports.
Some Transportation Security Administration screeners are staying home rather than work without pay. During the shutdown, the training facility in Oklahoma is closed.
"It’s not a good situation. It certainly affects the supply chain, the people who train the controllers, the people who fix the equipment they use, are all not there right now. They may have been called back yesterday. It’s not a good situation," aviation expert Ed Booth told News4Jax on Wednesday.
NATCA officials said employees are working six days a week, some 60 hours a week, without pay, forcing many to live off their savings accounts.
“There’s a lot of folks that don’t have any savings, so they’re having to make tough decisions," air traffic control specialist Paul Behan said. "They’re having to cancel their cable bills, or not send the kids to dance classes, things of that nature.”
Aside from the impact it has on the workers, the flyer NATCA is passing out at JAX Wednesday breaks down the impact the shutdown has on safety and training of air traffic controllers.
Jacksonville NATCA Union President Christopher Iresabal said he and his wife are among the furloughed workers.
"We have zero income coming in," Iresabal said. "We’re ok for now but come April, we’re probably going to have to make some serious decisions.”
The Federal Aviation Administration says it has brought about 500 furloughed safety inspectors back to work and expects more to return next week, potentially easing strains on the aviation system amid a partial federal government shutdown.
Most of the FAA's 3,000 safety inspectors have been sidelined during the 22-day shutdown. But the agency is accelerating efforts to bring them back. Agency spokesman Gregory Martin didn't provide specifics in an email to the Associated Press Saturday.
Inspectors oversee and certify inspections by airline and repair-shop employees. They're not considered essential employees who must work during shutdowns.
"They are consummate professionals and they are not going to allow the fact that they are not getting paid to compromise the way they do their job," Booth said. "When a controller who is handling 14 to 15 planes has an aircraft that has an emergency he has to devote his attention to that airplane and someone has to come in and pick up the slack and those people may not be there and that’s not the best situation, but I don’t think the public needs to be concerned. Safety is the No. 1 priority."
Jacksonville airport officials said the shutdown is not having any major impact on security at JAX but they are advising travelers to arrive at least two hours before their flight, as always.