Government shutdown impacts East Tennessee air traffic controllers

Local News

Moving into nearly three weeks, the government shutdown is affecting thousands of federal employees. Some of those in East Tennessee work for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, others work for TSA or as air traffic controllers. 

One air traffic controller says the hope for him: End the shutdown fast. 

“Staffing and hiring has been frozen. There’s no pipeline for new controllers. Locally, training classes have been shutdown as well which slows down the training process,” said David Harness, an air traffic controller who works at McGhee Tyson Airport. 

Harness has worked as an ATC for 15 years, he says he’s seen a few government shutdowns before. Regardless of the administration, he says the feelings during a shutdown never change. 

“This isn’t political, we don’t side with either party. It’s about improving the [National Airspace System] NAS. That’s what we’re trying to do,” said Harness. 

He says himself and others in his position feel “uneasy” and “nervous” during a shutdown, because they continue to work but don’t know when they’ll get their next paycheck. 

According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, 14,000 air traffic controllers are working without knowing when they’ll get their next paycheck.

In addition, there are 3,000 other Federal Aviation Administration safety professionals are furloughed. 

Harness said special projects have stopped, as well as training for new air traffic controllers.

Nationally, 6,300 projects that federal aviation employees are working on have stopped. According to the NATCA, that includes inspections of aircraft parts and development of runway safety areas at airports. 

Above all, Harness says ATCs continue coming to work because they understand they’re relied upon across the country for travel and shipments by airplane. 

“You just want to make sure that everybody gets to their destination safely. Some of the things we can’t do maintenance wise… ” said Harness, “It’s uneasy and has a lot of people on edge because they don’t know when their next paycheck is coming.” 

A spokesperson for McGhee Tyson Airport says there have been no flight delays as a result of the government shutdown. 

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