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KCI air traffic controllers protest: How the shutdown is making flying less safe

The Kansas City International Airport control tower.
The Kansas City International Airport control tower. The Kansas City Star file photo

Members of the air traffic controllers union are passing out leaflets at Kansas City International Airport on Thursday protesting the partial federal government shutdown, now in its 27th day.

“No one should be under the illusion that it’s business as usual for aviation safety during the shutdown” the leaflet said. “Every day the shutdown continues, the negative consequences to the (National Airspace System) and its employees are compounding.”

About 25 members of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association were handing out the leaflets and engaging travelers near the baggage claims in Terminals B and C and encouraging them to contact elected officials. They are either furloughed workers or on their day off, said NATCA Regional Vice President Aaron Merrick.

The union is also passing out literature at other airports around the country.

Merrick said the union has a permit from the city aviation department to distribute leaflets at the airport for the duration of the shutdown. Joe McBride, spokesman for the department, confirmed the permit.

Merrick said the response from the public has been sympathetic.

“I have not met one person who said, ‘We need to keep the shutdown longer,’” he said. “They appreciate what we do.”

Nationally, about 3,000 aviation safety professionals are furloughed and being told not to report for work. Certified air traffic controllers are working without pay, although they are guaranteed to receive back pay once the shutdown ends.

They join about 800,000 federal workers on furlough as President Trump and Congress feud over funding billions of dollars for border security, including a wall.

More than 300 NATCA members are affected by the shutdown in the Kansas City area — at KCI, Wheeler Downtown Airport and the en route facility in Olathe.

Among the effects of the shutdown, according to the NATCA leaflet:

“The Federal Aviation Administration has stopped issuing Airworthiness Directives, which mandate safety fixes to existing aircraft.”

“FAA workgroups are unable to meet, which will delay implementation of new safety procedures.”

“Delays in maintenance put the technology we rely on at risk of falling behind or malfunctioning.”

On Tuesday, a federal judge refused to issue a temporary restraining order against the federal government sought by the NCATA. The association filed a lawsuit Jan. 11 against the Trump administration for allegedly violating the Fifth Amendment in not paying controllers “without the requisite due process.”

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