Officials at the Portland International Jetport say the federal government shutdown hasn’t affected operations at the airport, but some workers are concerned that a prolonged shutdown could delay critical safety training, especially for air traffic controllers.

At noon Monday, a steady flow of passengers went through security screening at the jetport, with barely a line forming and the metal detectors and body scanners humming along without a hitch. All the flight departures were listed as on time, although there were changes in schedules for a half-dozen incoming flights – they landed early.

But a representative of the air traffic control union said a prolonged shutdown could exacerbate a labor shortage among those who help guide planes in and out of the airport.

There were also reports that some Transportation Security Administration workers at other airports were staging a sick-out over their lack of pay, but that didn’t appear to be the case at the Portland airport. Communications workers for the TSA have been furloughed and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Zachary Sundquist, Portland’s assistant airport director, said airport officials haven’t heard of an unusual number of TSA workers calling in sick at the jetport. He said TSA officials don’t routinely inform the airport about staffing levels but would notify airport officials if any problems were interrupting operations.

“We’re obviously monitoring all of our federal partners, but at this point there’s no impact,” he said.


The shutdown of nine federal departments began on Dec. 22 because of a dispute between President Trump and congressional Democrats over funding for a proposed wall on the country’s southern border.

A regional representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Organization said the group is “firmly against any sort of job action.” He said five of the 25 controllers in Portland who are members of the union have been furloughed because of the shutdown. The 20 who haven’t been will continue to work despite the lack of pay, Mick Devine said.

The New England regional vice president for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Devine said that in addition to suspending pay for air traffic controllers, the shutdown has closed the federal air traffic controllers’ main training site in Oklahoma City.

He said some Portland and Bangor controllers who had been sent there for advanced training on radar operations were sent back to Maine after the shutdown with no word on whether they will be able to complete their seven weeks of training. It’s unclear if they can pick up where they left off when the shutdown interrupted their training, or if they have to start over again, he said.

Devine also said air traffic control staffing levels are at a 30-year low and were only beginning to recover from the training center’s closure for nine months because of budget cuts in 2013.

The current shutdown has “put a dent in that timeline” for recovering from that closure, Devine said.


The shutdown has led to furloughs for other Federal Aviation Administration workers in Portland, he said, including inspectors and workers who help maintain the equipment in the airport tower. Devine said five such workers have been told to stay home in Portland.

He said that workers’ anxiety over missed paychecks will only grow if the shutdown continues.

“It’s still safe to fly, but next Tuesday, you will find a workforce whose morale has hit the floor,” Devine said. Workers’ next paychecks are due on Jan. 15, he said.

The Air Line Pilots Association International on Monday released a letter it sent to Trump, asking him to end the shutdown “that is adversely affecting the safety, security and efficiency of our national airspace system.” The letter cited the lack of FAA inspectors and said the shutdown will delay the implementation of a new communications system for air traffic controllers.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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