Government shutdown would send US air travel ‘in the wrong direction’


US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said the department is making substantial progress on air travel disruptions and keeping Americans safe when they fly.

However, there’s one key thing that could derail progress — a government shutdown.

“What would not help us in the progress we’re making right now is a government shutdown,” Buttigieg told Yahoo Finance at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia and Tech Conference on Wednesday (video above). “If we went through a shutdown, a lot of the progress that we have been making on building up air traffic control, staffing, and readiness in training would be stopped in its tracks. We’d lose the momentum that we’ve gained over recent weeks and months, and it would send us in the wrong direction.”

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09: U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks to the media at the Department of Transportation on May 09, 2023 in Washington, DC. Buttigieg spoke on a host of issues, including proposed regulations to require airlines to compensate passengers for flight delays and cancellations. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks to the media at the Department of Transportation on May 09, 2023, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/.)

This week, lawmakers returned from their summer recess as the clock begins ticking to pass spending legislation before the government shuts down at midnight on Sept. 30.

Stifel chief Washington policy strategist Brian Gardner recently told Yahoo Finance that a government shutdown now looks “pretty likely.”

“I think a shutdown is certainly above 50/50,” Gardner said. “I’m probably in the 60% to 65% range at this point.”

Economists have been split on the economic impacts of a government shutdown this fall, though the airline industry could be particularly affected as it has faced chronic challenges stemming from the pandemic such as shortages of pilots, flight attendants, and air traffic controllers as well as aging infrastructure.

Though there are reportedly more close calls occurring on runways, Buttigieg reiterated that air travel remains remarkably safe. Even small incidents get deep scrutiny, he said.

“We have the safest, most complex aviation system in the world,” Buttigieg said. “Amazingly, flying is actually the safest form of travel by far in the United States, but we don’t take that for granted or sit back with that. Even a situation that is out of the norm, let alone an actual incident, is going to get the kind of attention that used to be reserved for when there was an actual collision in the past.”

The reality is that it’s been a long time since there’s been a notable air travel disaster in the US, a trend of safety that Buttigieg was adamant will stay in place moving forward.

“Something hasn’t happened in over a decade in the United States, and keeping it that way for the future includes making sure we have the right kind of technology,” he told Yahoo Finance Live. “It means making sure there’s the right kind of training and attention. We’re pushing a lot right now on situational awareness, communications, sterile cockpits, and good hygiene that everybody — whether in the tower or in the flight deck — needs to maintain.”

Read more coverage of the 2023 Goldman Sachs Communacopia + Tech conference:

Allie Garfinkle is a Senior Tech Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @agarfinks and on LinkedIn.

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