Two House lawmakers proposed legislation on Friday that would ensure federal aviation personnel such as air traffic controllers and airline safety inspectors would be paid in a government shutdown, as another funding deadline looms next week. The proposal came two weeks after a shortage of air traffic controllers, who were working unpaid during the partial government shutdown last month, delayed flights throughout the eastern U.S. Lawmakers and the Trump administration reached a deal to temporarily fund the government shortly after the air travel disruption.
Lawmakers now have until Feb. 15 to come up with a border security deal or risk another shutdown. The aviation industry had been among the most vocal against the 35-day shutdown, the longest ever, as passengers faced long lines at some of the country’s busiest airports due to absences of unpaid Transportation Security Administration screeners. Airlines also faced approval delays for new routes and aircraft because federal safety inspectors were furloughed.
The bill was introduced by Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and the aviation subcommittee chair, Rick Larsen, a Democrat from Washington. It proposes using a special fund to continue to pay FAA personnel, including the country’s roughly 14,000 air traffic controllers he funding wouldn’t apply to TSA officers because they work under the Department of Homeland Security, not the FAA.
Using the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which is fed by taxes from airline tickets, jet fuel and cargo, would “ensure essential personnel who work under immensely stressful situations continue to get paid, and that the largest, busiest and most complex airspace system in the world remains safe for passengers and employees,” Larsen said in a statement.
Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents air traffic controllers, supported the bill. He said that controllers “experienced financial stress due to a lack of income, which led to distractions and significant fatigue for people who need to be 100 percent focused on safety.”