Aviation safety inspectors deemed 'non-essential'

South Bend International Airport // WSBT 22 photo

As day 21 wraps up, the federal government shutdown is now tied for the longest in US History. And more people across the country are feeling the effects.

Federal Aviation Administration employees are among those not getting paid. The men and women in the South Bend Airport control tower are working for free.

But they say that's not the worst of it. The aviation safety inspectors have been deemed non-essential and have been furloughed.

Those inspectors check the planes for safety and oversee maintenance procedures.

Their FAA coworkers say they're anything but non-essential.

The longer those inspectors are off work, the more dangerous it gets to fly.

The employees who are working say Congress may not be feeling the pressure, but average Joes certainly are.

If you've ever flown, you were on one of the more than 40,000 flights handled by the Federal Aviation Administration every day.

It takes people like Brett Bateman and Steve Showalter to keep those planes in the air.

"We ensure that the systems that they use to communicate to the aircraft, the surveillance systems, and the landing systems are still working properly," said Bateman, Professional Aviation Safety Specialists Union rep.

"No airplanes would fly without those systems," said Showalter, airway transportation system specialist.

The aviation safety inspectors check the planes and oversee maintenance procedures.

"I would say it’s a vital part of our safety culture," said Bateman.

"For us, we’re still coming to work, we still have expenses to come to work, we gotta buy gas, we’ve got childcare to pay for. You know, things like that," said Showalter.

Without money coming in, there's only one way to get by: Savings.

“It’s only sustainable for so long."

As the shutdown drags on, more and more TSA employees are calling in sick rather than work without pay.

Bateman and Showalter say they'd never consider it.

"I use the air system just like everybody else, and safety is paramount," said Showalter. "Without us, without the air traffic controllers and inspectors, it’s not safe."

Bateman and Showalter made clear to us that every day this shut down drags on, the less safe it gets to fly. Showalter calls the last 21 days an unfair trade.

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