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Alex Daugherty

Buttigieg: Shutdown would furlough 1,000 air traffic controllers

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Wednesday that a looming government shutdown would mean 1,000 air traffic controllers undergoing on-the-job training at centers nationwide would be furloughed — a blow to the department's efforts to plug holes in the controller workforce.

"A shutdown would stop all of that progress. It would mean we have to immediately stop training air traffic controllers and furlough 1,000 controllers who are already in the training pipeline," Buttigieg said.

Most air traffic controllers — about 13,000 nationwide — will continue working, along with 50,000 TSA baggage screeners, albeit without pay.

Buttigieg also said a shutdown lasting "a few days" would mean that DOT will be unable to meet its staffing and hiring targets for air traffic controllers next year. The agency plans to hire 1,800 controllers next year, up from 1,500 this year. Last week, Buttigieg said DOT has "2,600 air traffic controllers in the pipeline” a figure that also includes trainees at the FAA's academy in Oklahoma.

He laid blame at Republicans' feet for holding up government funding.

"What's especially galling is that we see some of these same elected officials who have responded to even weather delays by blaming the administration now turning around and demanding that we cut resources for air traffic controllers," Buttigieg said.

Rulemakings also impacted: Buttigieg said a shutdown would also halt DOT rulemakings, including high-profile attempts to compensate airline passengers for lengthy flight delays and to require airlines to seat families next to each other without imposing additional fees, and would hamper efforts to strengthen freight rail regulations that are currently underway after the East Palestine, Ohio derailment.

"The rulemaking activity might be unglamorous but we’re talking about advancing very important rules," Buttigieg said.

What's next: Buttigieg said he isn't sure if Congress will be able to pass legislation that would avert a lapse in the FAA's authorization, which also expires at the same time as government funding. The Senate introduced a continuing resolution using the House-passed FAA bill, H.R. 3935 (118), on Tuesday that would fund the government through Nov. 17 and authorize the FAA through the end of the year.

On Tuesday the bipartisan chair and ranking member of the House Transportation Committee introduced a standalone extension, H.R. 5711.

"There are definitely a lot of different scenarios that are being discussed on the Hill," Buttigieg said. "We're trying to be ready and nimble to adapt to whatever Congress throws our way but this is really no way to run a ballclub. Getting this close down to the wire is a real challenge for us."

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