Nashville air traffic controllers working without pay during government shutdown

Posted: 4:37 PM, Jan 10, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-11 15:28:16Z

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The job description is simple: Keep airplanes from colliding, but there's nothing easy about being an air traffic controller, especially at hub like Nashville International Airport.

President Trump's partial government shutdown has made the already stressful job all the more stressful.

"We save lives everyday. We work in an environment where we are expected to be correct 100 percent of the time," said Jim Marinitti the Southern Regional Vice President for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and a controller himself.

There are those who say there is no more crucial job in aviation than an air traffic controller.

"Zero pay for air traffic controllers as of today. For them to have to worry about that as they have to separate airplanes is unconscionable to me," said Marinitti.

Others agree.

"The level of stress and precision air traffic controllers exercise on a daily basis is mind blowing," said pilot Jason Morgan who flies NewsChannel 5's Sky5 helicopter.

He's also flown commercial planes and knows the shutdown is hard on air traffic controllers.

"They are more than likely working overtime. Being stretched thin," said Morgan.

So is it still safe to fly? Marinitti says yes.

"It absolutely is safe to fly."

Yet, he says controllers are now basically alone in towers without any of the typical support staff they usually have to help run daily operations. Most all have been put on furlough. Marinitti offered this comparison.

"If you are planning to go have heart surgery and you go to meet with surgeon and you realize he's not being paid and no support staff. He has to do it himself. That's how air traffic controllers are feeling today."

He says controllers are doing their job, but in time, flights may have to be canceled to reduce the workload and ensure continued safety. The bottom line: experts say it is still safe to fly, but the longer the government shutdown continues the more pressure will be put on air traffic controllers who are already working a pressure packed job.

Nashville International is one of the fastest growing airports in the country.

It's worth noting the tower here was already incredibly busy and looking to hire more controllers even before the shutdown to place.