COVID-19

What happens if air-traffic controllers come down with COVID-19?

Jack Stewart Mar 26, 2020
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What happens if crucial air traffic controllers get COVID-19? Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

What happens if air-traffic controllers come down with COVID-19?

Jack Stewart Mar 26, 2020
What happens if crucial air traffic controllers get COVID-19? Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
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The airline industry is asking for a huge government bailout to help it deal with the enormous decline in travel due to COVID-19. The $2 trillion recovery package that the Senate passed late Wednesday night includes $25 billion for airline workers’ “salaries and benefits,” among other funding.

But there’s another issue the industry has to cope with: What if air-traffic controllers get sick? If there were a major COVID-19 outbreak at one of the centers that direct and monitor planes for large chunks of U.S. airspace, the effects could cascade through the system.

Coronavirus cases have already been reported in a handful of air-traffic control facilities across the country, including Chicago Midway International Airport on March 17. 

As captured by LiveATC.net, the control tower closure limited the airport’s operations for a week while it was cleaned.

Ian Petchenik, of the global flight-tracking service Flightradar24, said controllers are among those who can’t work from home. “You’re working in close quarters with a variety of people on different shifts,” he said.

In a statement, the Federal Aviation Administration said every facility has a contingency plan. However, aviation safety expert Ashley Nunes, a senior research associate at Harvard University, said the plans are really about landing flights safely on short notice.

“The goal of these plans isn’t to ensure that operations continue as though nothing is going on,” Nunes said.

But the reduced demand for flights should ease the pressure on the air-traffic control system, for now.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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