(RONKONKOMA, NEW YORK) – As the federal government entered its third week of a shutdown, tensions are undoubtedly rising between those involved. While many federal employees are not expected to go to work during the shutdown, some are required to show up. These people are known as ‘essential personnel’ and include positions such as air traffic controllers, like the ones who work at the New York Center here in Ronkonkoma.
The job during the shutdown isn’t essentially any different than when there isn’t one. Only during a shutdown, there’s a slight problem: they’re not getting paid.
“The controllers here are on the ball, all of the time. And honestly, there is little room for error in this industry, period,” said one supervisor.
New York Center also handles, (or “owns”) a large chunk of airspace over the Altantic Ocean and the Caribbean. We spoke with one of those oceanic controllers about the shutdown.
“The procedures used here within the confines of this building ensure that safety is provided to all of the users of our system at any given time,” he said. “That said, because safety is never compromised, there is, at times, a global linear or logarithmic slowdown of air traffic services. This can of course cause delays that affect the customer, which is ultimately the flying public.”
We also spoke with a controller who works a domestic airspace area in the building.
“Yo, like [expletive] this [expletive] shutdown bro, I [expletive] swear to [expletive] [expletive] [expletive] that this [expletive] is [expletive] [expletive], you know, bro? Like [expletive]. [expletive] it.”
However, while all of the controllers can agree that the shutdown is a huge burden, nobody could have expected what happened on Saturday morning at the center in Ronkonkoma.
“We came out of work, and all I heard was honking and screaming,” said one controller. “I looked up, and I saw it. It was a wall. A massive wall. The guards were telling us, ‘get back to work, don’t ask questions.’ Personally, I hadn’t felt this confused since I did my first ‘descend-via’ procedure and my trainer and I both didn’t know if we did it right.”
President Donald Trump recently announced that if the border wall with Mexico wasn’t funded, he was prepared to keep the government shutdown for “months, or even years.”
“Look, I can’t work for free. Even if I am staying here, I am not going to work traffic constantly without pay. They’re gonna have to force me to make a clearance. I’ll be in the computer lounge most of the day,” said one controller, who went by his ‘facility nickname’, “PornHub Pat”. As to why he was called that, all he told us was he’s ‘often in the computer lab’. “Look bro, I have like over 51,000 CBIs to do. That’ll keep me busy.”
We asked the guards outside the building how long they anticipate the wall being at the gates.
“To tell you the truth, I have no idea. This baby weighs almost 1,000 tons, so I mean, even if the government opens tomorrow, I have a feeling it’s going to be a little while before we’re able to move it.”
As of this writing, there are 8 certified professional controllers in the building, and 884 trainees.
“The environment is a bit miserable, at the moment,” said one of the trainees.
“But I’m optimistic. You have to be optimistic. I’m hoping to certify by 2034. Maybe by then, the government will be open again, too.”
This is a developing story.