Federal shutdown doesn't affect Groton-New London Airport

The Connecticut Airport Authority said the partial government shutdown is not having an impact on Groton-New London Airport, one of the state's five general aviation airports. 

The authority said the air traffic controllers there are working during the partial government shutdown, which entered its 21st day on Friday.

"Air traffic controllers at Groton-New London Airport are contracted employees and air traffic control is considered essential during the partial government shutdown," said Alisa D. Sisic, public information officer for Connecticut Airport Authority. "There's no impact because they are all essential employees."

Gregory Martin, assistant administrator for communications at the Federal Aviation Administration, said contracted air traffic control employees are working and getting paid during the shutdown.

Among the general aviation airports run by the airport authority, Groton-New London, Hartford-Brainard Airport and Waterbury-Oxford Airport have air traffic control towers, which are contracted out by the FAA, Sisic said.

An official from Midwest Air Traffic Control, the company that is the federal contractor for the three airports, declined to comment.

All other workers at Groton-New London Airport, which had 43,744 total operations in 2017 according to FAA statistics, are Connecticut Airport Authority employees, Sisic said.

Bradley International

Nationally, the Associated Press has reported that "About 10,000 air traffic controllers who work for the Federal Aviation Administration, about 51,000 Transportation Security Administration officers, and an undisclosed number of federal air marshals have been told to keep reporting to work because they are deemed essential."

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association held a rally Thursday afternoon on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to protest the shutdown, the union announced in a news release.

Mick Devine, New England regional vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said controllers in the air traffic control facility and the radar facility at Bradley International Airport are working without pay and two of them are furloughed.

Beyond air traffic controllers, Devine pointed out that nationwide 3,000 aviation professionals, including support specialists and engineers, have been furloughed, and those professionals provided a layer of safety and support in a multilayer system. He said that while it's still very safe and secure to fly, the shutdown has peeled away layers of safety.

"You're taking tools out of the toolbox," he said.

He added that the last thing aviation employees should be thinking about is paying their bills or providing for their families at home.

"Their skills have to be at peak cognitive performance at all times because it is a very stressful profession," he said. "We've already stripped away layers of safety and then you’re adding this unnecessary burden to their psyche."

Martin did not directly comment on the status of controllers at Bradley but said that travelers can be confident that air travel remains safe.  

"The traveling public can be assured that our nation's airspace system is safe," Martin said of the FAA. "Air traffic controllers and the technicians who maintain the nation's airspace system continue to work without pay as they fill a critical mission to ensure the public's safety. We appreciate their dedication and service."

Sisic said there has been no impact to passengers at Bradley International Airport due to the government shutdown and TSA screening wait times have not increased.

The office of Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said about 1,500 Connecticut residents who work for the federal government have been furloughed or are working without pay during the shutdown, and the senator in a Facebook Live message Thursday shared letters and emails he received from some of them. One communication was from Bryan of New Haven, the president of the local National Air Traffic Controllers Association, who is a single father with a daughter.

"I have a home and mortgage," Bryan wrote, according to Murphy's office. "It's a hard time to be in. I'm forced to continue to go work or face the possibility of losing my job."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also expressed concern.

"Airport security has been made a political pawn by a petulant President seeking to protect his own ego and pander to his base," Blumenthal said in a statement. "It is plainly unacceptable that dedicated TSA agents and air traffic control workers work without pay. I have heard from numerous airport workers in Connecticut who are struggling to provide for their families and are fed up with being collateral damage in this protracted Presidential temper tantrum. Let's reopen the government and have a real conversation and debate about effective border security and comprehensive immigration reform."

k.drelich@theday.com

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