Controller Staffing Shortage Causes Ground Stop


Air traffic controller staffing shortages at Washington Center in Leesburg, Virginia, led to ground stops for flights to Newark and LaGuardia Friday morning and there are also reports of staffing issues at Jacksonville Center. It’s believed facility managers have ordered increased separation between aircraft to maintain safety because of unscheduled controller absences. Delays of up to 90 minutes were reported at the New York-area airports leading to the ground stop at airports along the eastern seaboard. Flights headed to the Big Apple from the West were still being allowed to take off but there are fears the damage was already done by mid-morning and the stage set for a lousy travel day throughout the country. The reasons for the absences were not clear.

Trish Gilbert, vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, told CNN that it’s likely that controllers, who haven’t been paid in more than a month and who have been working without furloughed support staff, are self-certifying and declaring themselves medically unfit. “It’s their responsibility to not plug in” if they aren’t rested or otherwise unable to perform unhindered. “We’re concerned they’re not fit for duty,” she said. Gilbert said her union and others have been predicting that the inevitable result of the shutdown would be air travel disruptions and she suggested it will get worse. “This is unreasonable,” she said. “You can’t mess with a system that is so integral to the United States.”