FINDLAY TWP. — Air traffic controllers at Pittsburgh International Airport are another group of employees working for free because of the government shutdown.
“We are working without pay,” said Eric Stormfels, representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the group’s union. Stormfels has been an air traffic controller for more than 25 years — 15 of which were at PIT.
“We are going to be paid when it’s all done and the shutdown is over,” he said. “But it’s just a stressful job as is, and dealing with that issue becomes a distraction.”
PIT air traffic controllers have not been paid since Oct. 1, he said. These employees work in both the tower and in the radar room, controlling the runways, taxiways and airspace 30 nautical miles around the airport and up to 14,000 feet in the air, Stormfels said.
And it’s not just PIT that could be affected. These air traffic controllers also control the aircraft coming in and out of the Beaver County Airport, the Butler County Airport, the Allegheny County Airport, the Washington County Airport and the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport in Wheeling, W.Va., he said.
Also because of the shutdown, four staff support specialists — those responsible for procedural and training issues — are furloughed, he said.
“That creates a bit more (of a) workload for us,” he said.
According to The Associated Press, furloughs of 2,900 Federal Aviation Administration inspectors had put safety oversight of planes, pilots and aircraft repair stations on hold. The FAA later recalled about 800 employees — including some inspectors — to work. The State Department continues processing foreign applications for visas and U.S. applications for passports, because fees are collected to finance those services. Embassies and consulates overseas remain open and are providing services for U.S. citizens abroad.
Also, about 2,300 of the 18,500 staff originally furloughed by the Department of Transportation have been recalled. Most are FAA engineers, inspectors and safety staff who provide oversight of aviation parts and airlines. However, other transportation employees were recalled to assist with the emergency response to Tropical Storm Karen. Most of those employees have subsequently been furloughed again.
While it was unclear as of Wednesday night whether the government shutdown would end and the air traffic controllers would resume their normal pay schedule, Stormfels is hopeful.
“I’m hoping so much that it is,” he said of the shutdown. “We’re safety professionals. We come in here and we’re working without a paycheck. But that’s what we do. We want to keep the flying public safe.”
But like many others, Stormfels is sure of one thing: he doesn’t want to continue “working with an IOU from the federal government.”