Local air traffic controllers, among thousands working without pay, anxious as bills mount


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Local federal aviation employees are feeling the effects of the partial government shutdown.

For the past eight years, David Baker has been in the tower helping pilots take off and land at Norfolk International as an air traffic controller. It’s a job he loves. He is now president of the local controllers’ union.

“It’s not like any other job,” Baker said. “It’s very rewarding.”

It’s also a job where safety is most important.

“I work every airplane like my family is on it,” Baker added.

On December 22, the federal government partially shutdown.

“It’s bad,” Baker said. “Stress is high and the job is already a stressful occupation.”

Baker is considered part of the essential aviation community, meaning he has to come to work even though right now he’s not getting paid.

“All the essential personal are effectively working for IOUs right now,” he said. “We are guaranteed to get something eventually when the government reopens.”

But when will that be? The bills are starting to mount up. Baker worries what will happen if this doesn’t end soon.

“There is not a lot of assistance out there for us right now so it’s scary,” Baker added.

Baker is one of 10,500 air traffic controllers nationwide working without pay. Because of the shutdown, the FAA has set aside 6,300 projects, most of them safety related.  Right now, there are no training classes to certify new air traffic controllers to fill the spots of those who are retiring. Baker believes that could affect airline passengers.

“The cumulative effect is longer and longer flight delays,” Baker said.

Non-essential federal aviation employees have been furloughed. There is no guarantee they will ever be made whole.

“Nobody knows what direction this is really going to go or in what timeframe, so we are just cautiously optimistic,” Baker added.

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