FAA halts flights into LaGuardia over staffing shortage

WASHINGTON (AA): The Federal Aviation Administration halted flights into and out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport, citing staffing shortages amid an ongoing partial federal government shutdown that entered day 35 Friday.

The agency said it was experiencing staff shortages at two facilities prompted by “a slight increase in sick leave,” as average flight delays were estimated to be about an hour-and-a-half at the normally bustling airport.

“We’ve mitigated the impact by augmenting staffing, rerouting traffic, and increasing spacing between aircraft when needed,” an agency spokesman said in a statement to Anadolu Agency.

“The results have been minimal impacts to efficiency while maintaining consistent levels of safety in the national airspace system,” he added.

The delays at LaGuardia resulted in cascading delays at other airports including Newark Liberty International and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

There have been previous reports of multiple “sick outs,” primarily among unpaid Transportation Security Administration employees responsible for working security checkpoints, which has caused screening delays at some airports.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been briefed on the delays, the White House said in a statement that added it is monitoring ongoing delays “at some airports.”

The delays come two days after a union representing air traffic controllers, flight attendants and pilots warned that with staffing of air traffic controllers already at a 30-year low, the additional stress of missing out on paychecks for employees who routinely work 10-hour days and 6-day workweeks is reason for “growing concern for the safety and security of our members, our airlines, and the traveling public.”

Union President Sara Nelson warned in a statement that “air safety environment that is deteriorating by the day,” while calling on Congress and the White House to end the shutdown immediately. Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, said Thursday in comments that have been met with criticism he did not understand why some air traffic controllers would be calling out sick from unpaid work.

“It is kind of disappointing that the air traffic controllers are calling in sick in pretty large numbers,” the billionaire investor told CNBC, additionally arguing that the employees could take out loans to bridge the gap.