Hours before President Trump announced a tentative deal to end the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, LaGuardia Airport found itself mired in problems related to a staffing shortage caused by the impasse.
The Federal Aviation Administration abruptly halted some flights into and out of LaGuardia Airport just before 10 a.m. Friday as delays of almost one-and-a-half hours backed up flights. LaGuardia’s air traffic control is fully staffed, according to the Port Authority which operates the airport, the issue is a shortage elsewhere that is impacting all airports and flight paths along the eastern seaboard.
“No one could make up the situation we are in, and it gets worse everyday,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “Today, they issue a ground stop – they halt flights leaving LaGuardia Airport. Why do they do that? Because due to the federal shutdown, there are too few staff in Washington to adequately control air traffic and they have to reduce flights coming from airports from the East Coast like LaGuardia due to the staffing shortage.”
Air traffic controllers are essential workers who are required to work without pay. Bloomberg reports incoming flights to Newark and Philadelphia have also been stopped.
Calls to the FAA Eastern Region office went unanswered due to the fact the office has been closed due to the government shutdown.
“We have experienced a slight increase in sick leave at two air traffic control facilities affecting New York and Florida. As with severe storms, we will adjust operations to a safe rate to match available controller resources,” the FAA said in a statement. “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 public can monitor air traffic at fly.faa.gov and they should check with airline carriers for more information.”
“Look at the level of madness that we have going on in this nation right now,” Cuomo said. “And now it’s not just Washington inside the beltway, now literally, they’re slowing down air traffic in the United States of America. The hypocrisy of a president who talks about helping the economy, this is going to nothing but set us back. He talks about security, meanwhile the TSA agents at the airports are furloughed and aren’t getting paid. So it’s another day of federal madness.”
Loretta Alkaly, and Adjunct Professor at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in East Elmhurst, next to LaGuardia Airport and former FAA attorney for more than 30 years, says people should be concerned.
“It is a good thing the FAA is having this action since it is keeping the system safe,” Alkalay said. “The system can be stretched safely in normal times, but they need a pipeline of people to operate safely. Without this pipeline this lack of staffing can lead to distraction and stress on the part of FAA workers.”
Long Island City-based JetBlue Airways CEO Robin Hayes warned Thursday the shutdown would affect aviation.
“We are close to a tipping point as employees are about to miss a second paycheck,” Hayes said. “The longer this goes on, the longer it will take for the nation’s air travel infrastructure to rebound.”
Just before 2 p.m. on Jan. 25, Trump announced he would back a short-term funding bill during a Rose Garden. The bill would reopen the government after its longest-ever shutdown but it will not include funds to build a wall along the U.S. and Mexico border.
Trump added that he might declare a national emergency and go around Congress to build the wall if a deal is not reached in the next three weeks.
“If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on Feb. 15 again or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency,” Trump said.
Jeff Yapalater contributed to this report.