Republican lawmakers who are fearful of job losses in the air traffic control industry once President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate kicks in want the White House to come up with a contingency plan for mass vacancies ahead of the holiday season.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), voiced their concerns in letters to Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) Administrator David Pekoske and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Stephen Dickson while demanding the two officials produce a plan to ensure flight safety and ATC availability as the country moves into the winter holidays.
Both lawmakers pressed the two agency chiefs to produce plans indicating that the Biden vaccine mandate won’t interfere with air travel, given their “central role” in facilitating such travel, especially when it comes to providing security screeners and airports and air traffic control.
“Many airline employees, including airline pilots, are considering retiring or quitting over the mandate, while some have even sued,” the two GOP lawmakers wrote in their letter to Dickson, which was obtained exclusively by Fox Business.
“Recent large scale airline operational disruptions have demonstrated our aviation system is operating with very little slack, meaning that even minor issues with worker shortages or equipment and crew availability can spiral quickly out of control,” the lawmakers wrote, likely a reference to thousands of flights that have been canceled by airlines in recent weeks.
“We are very concerned that even a small number of terminations at the FAA and the airlines due to the vaccine mandate will stretch our fragile aviation system to the breaking point during the traditionally busy travel season,” the letter continued.
They also noted in their letter to Dickson that his agency has previously mentioned a “contingency plan in place to prevent the COVID-19 vaccine mandate from causing disruptions” as they pertain to air traffic control and asked him to forward that plan to them.
“We urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that air travelers will not suffer through operational disruptions, missed flights, or cancelled trips due to a shortage of fully vaccinated FAA air traffic controllers,” they noted in their letter to the FAA boss.
In their letter to Pekoske, the two Republicans noted that 40 percent of TSA screeners currently are not fully vaccinated as of the Biden administration’s Nov. 8 deadline. They went on to warn that the “vaccine mandates combined with a pre-existing worker shortage and anticipated return of holiday air travel demands are compounding and creating the perfect storm.”
In an email to Fox Business on Monday, a TSA spokesperson noted that federal agencies, “including TSA, are laser-focused on vaccinating their workforce ahead of the November 22nd deadline for Federal employees.”
“Like other Federal agencies, we are continuing to collect vaccination information from employees as we approach the deadline,” the spokesperson added.
Biden first announced the vaccine mandate for federal employees, federal contractors, and private sector workers employed at companies with 100 or more staff on Sept. 9. The mandate was put on ice Saturday by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, however, in response to a lawsuit from five states challenging its constitutionality.
Several other states have also filed challenges. Legal experts believe the case will eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
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