Flights into LaGuardia Airport in New York, one of the busiest airports in the US, are being halted because there aren’t enough air traffic controllers to land them safely. The Federal Aviation Administration made the call to halt incoming flights on Friday, as reported by Bloomberg and CNBC.
According to Ethan Klapper of Yahoo News, the FAA has instituted a “ground stop” — flights currently in the air are still set to land at LaGuardia, but LaGuardia-bound flights that have not taken off yet have been delayed.
As of 11 am, flights arriving at LaGuardia Airport are delayed an average of one hour and 26 minutes, and flights arriving at Newark Airport are delayed an average of one hour and one minute, according to the FAA. Departures from Newark to LaGuardia are experiencing an average delay of one hour and 26 minutes, and general departures to other cities are experiencing delays between one hour and one minute and one hour and 15 minutes. According to Bloomberg, Delta says it is experiencing 200 flight delays at LaGuardia Airport.
The FAA issued a statement confirming that because of a “slight increase in sick leave in two facilities,” it was “rerouting traffic, and increasing spacing between traffic when needed.”
It is also delaying some traffic into airports in Newark and Philadelphia, according to CNN.
It’s the first time the partial government shutdown, which has now lasted five weeks, has affected air traffic, although some airports have had to briefly reduce the number of security checkpoints due to Transportation Security Administration personnel shortages.
Air traffic controllers are among the 800,000 federal employees who are missing their second paycheck Friday due to the shutdown. As “essential” employees, however, they’re being forced to work without pay.
Air traffic controllers (like other essential employees working unpaid, such as TSA agents) have experienced higher-than-normal absence rates during the shutdown, either because of the financial hardship involved in coming to work unpaid or out of protest.
On Wednesday, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union representing air traffic controllers, issued a statement that warned a continued shutdown could jeopardize air safety because of the understaffing caused by absences. “In our risk averse industry, we cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break,” the statement said. “It is unprecedented.”
And on Friday, Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson released a statement saying of the delays, “This is exactly what AFA and other aviation unions have been warning would happen. ... Do we have your attention now, Leader McConnell?”
On the equivalent weekday last year — Friday, January 26, 2018 — 1,144 flights landed or took off from LaGuardia, according to the FAA’s data tool.