Coronavirus among air traffic control workers could threaten U.S. aviation system

However, Sandy Murdock, who was the FAA’s chief attorney during the Reagan administration, found that the agency was able to deal with the air traffic controllers’ strike in 1981 and a fire in a large center near Chicago in 2014.

“It’ll take a pretty good punch,” said Murdock, to significantly disrupt traffic. But “when all those little red circles on the map get bigger and bigger, it becomes very difficult … I think we will get to a point where you can see a nationwide reduction or a 10 percent point.” Point-to-point reduction. And after going through this for a while, you can see a system error. “

However, the drop in demand for air travel will “reduce the pressure to reach the same level of operations,” Murdock added. “So it may be that supply and demand balance for the same reason – sick people in the control towers and people who don’t get on the planes.”

An air traffic controller working in a large facility in the DC area said the system would show stress to a major The center must be closed for several weeks or if two centers in the same region are closed at the same time. Such disruptions would be mitigated by fewer planes in the sky, but the air traffic controller said until Friday that he had not yet seen a sharp decline in air traffic, even though airline bookings had dropped dramatically.

“Our air traffic system is resilient and flexible,” the FAA said in a statement, noting that all facilities have contingency plans to “keep air traffic moving safely when events interfere with normal operations.” In some cases, this means transferring tasks to neighboring facilities. “

“Each disruption has a different impact on the air traffic system,” added the agency. “We are experiencing this in a handful of facilities that are already affected by COVID-19. This is frustrating and impractical, but necessary in the interest of security. “

Mike Perrone, president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, a union representing FAA technical staff, said he thinks the FAA is slow to respond to the outbreak at first.

“They came to dance slowly, I mean, I think the government in general,” said Perrone in an interview with POLITICO on Friday. “You were just trying to … obey regulations. The administrator is waiting for the DOT secretary. The DOT secretary is waiting for OMB and the president’s guidelines. “

“Now they’re moving, they’re trying – but a little late again,” he added. “Hopefully we can do it across the board, not just at the FAA.”

Perrone said he asked the agency to ensure that managers across the country consistently promote teleworking and social distancing. He said that PASS members who maintain equipment in air traffic control facilities need “a common message, a common philosophy.”

“At the moment it’s bit by bit,” he said. “In one place, the manager says: ‘Go home. You cannot come to work. ” [At] in another place: “No, you have to come to work.”

The FAA is considering postponing some maintenance, similar to the holiday season, Perrone said. PASS also recommended that employees stop reporting in one place to reduce their interactions with other employees.

Overall, Perrone said that during the crisis, the FAA needs to be “more flexible” and “think outside the box”, which has nothing to do with any other in the aerospace industry.

“We need to be able to do things differently to ensure people’s safety and keep the system running if they want to continue,” he said.

Last week, PASS complained that some technical staff were not immediately informed of a possible coronavirus case at the McCarran Tower in Las Vegas.

The controller in the DC area said his facility was slow to send apprentices home and encouraged teleworkers to do as much as possible, but that has changed over the past week. “They are trying to send as many insignificant people home as possible,” the controller said on Friday.

Last week Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) Sent a letter to FAA administrator Steve Dickson outlining concerns about non-teleworking for non-essential employees and lack of cleaning supplies.

The FAA said in a statement that it “encourages all entitled employees to telework as far as possible,” and that the agency uses social detachment and workspace cleaning for employees who cannot do their work remotely intensified to reduce exposure risk. “

The agency also said that facilities generally have enough cleaning products “except in isolated cases”. And in these cases, “managers are allowed to buy them locally,” the FAA said.

“We do not require employees to bring deliveries from home, although some employees do so voluntarily,” it said.

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