Travelers in U.S. won't see snarls from government shutdown

Reuters

By Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Air and rail travelers inthe United States should not feel a big impact if Congress failsto avert a government shutdown on Tuesday, since passportinspectors, security officers and air traffic controllers willall continue to work as usual.

The Department of Homeland Security said that most employeesof the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) andCustoms and Border Protection are exempt from furloughs thatwill be put in place if the government shuts down.

As a result, screening of passengers at airport screeningcheckpoints will continue as usual. On the other end of theflight, agents will still be staffing passport controls at U.S.borders and points of entry into the United States.

Visas for foreigners who want to travel to the United Stateswill still be processed and issued.

The Federal Aviation Administration's air trafficcontrollers will also continue their normal activities soflights should not be disrupted, the agency said. FAA inspectorswill still conduct inspections in the field and medicalcertification for pilots and air traffic controllers willcontinue.

Some FAA staff will be furloughed, though. As a result,training for new air traffic controllers will be suspended, aswill aviation rule making.

Development of "NextGen", the new U.S. air traffic controlsystem that aims to help airlines better navigate crowded airroutes, will also be suspended during a government shutdown,according to the Department of Transportation.

The department said NextGen development and testing will besuspended, as will development of NextGen safety standards.NextGen is a staged program that will shift air traffic controlsystems to global positioning satellites from radar and requiresabout $1 billion a year in federal investment.

In case of a major transportation accident, the NationalTransportation Safety Board will decide on a case-by-case basiswhether it will launch an investigation immediately or not.

An NTSB spokeswoman said if there are "life safety" issuesinvolved then NTSB would send out investigators. On Monday, theagency said it was sending investigators to the site of acommuter train crash in Chicago.

The rail service Amtrak, which is not a federal agency butwhich does receive federal funding, said it will continue normaloperations of its national intercity and high-speed passengerrail network in the event of a short-term government shut down.

Even though travelers may not see many disruptions, thegovernment shutdown could have a longer-term economic impact,said the chief of the U.S. Travel Association, a group whichrepresents all components of the travel industry.

"We are concerned that federal agencies will quickly beforced to implement shutdown policies that will damage thetravel experience and derail long-term bipartisan investments inour travel infrastructure," said Roger Dow, president of U.S.Travel.

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