Republicans demand contingency plan for air traffic controllers when vaccine mandate kicks in

Congressmen fear FAA terminations due to vaccine mandate 'will stretch our fragile aviation system to the breaking point '

FIRST ON FOX: Two House Republicans are demanding the Biden administration provide a contingency plan to assure them the upcoming vaccine mandate will not affect air travel this holiday season.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Sam Graves, R-Mo., and Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., sent letters to Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) Administrator David Pekoske and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Stephen Dickson demanding the plan as the country looks ahead to the winter holidays.

The congressmen Graves wrote that the agencies needed to hand over a plan showing the vaccine mandate will not interfere with holiday air travel given the "central role" they play in facilitating air travel, especially air traffic controllers and airport security screeners.

Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)


"Many airline employees, including airline pilots, are considering retiring or quitting over the mandate, while some have even sued," the congressmen wrote in the letter to Dickson exclusively obtained 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."

"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," they continued.

President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 relief package in the State Dining Room of the White House, Monday, March 15, 2021, in Washington.  (AP / AP Images)

Additionally, they pointed out in their letter to Pekoske that 40% of TSA screeners are not fully vaccinated as of the administration’s November 8 deadline and warned 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."

Rep. Garret Graves, R-La.  ((Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images))

The congressmen recounted in their letter to the FAA chief that the agency mentioned their "contingency plan in place to prevent the COVID-19 vaccine mandate from causing disruptions" in the agency’s role controlling air traffic and asked the agency to produce the plan.


"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 concluded their letter to Dickson.

The letters come as the president’s vaccine mandate deadline hit Monday, requiring federal workers and some federal government contractors — such as airlines — to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

A TSA spokesperson told Fox Business in a Monday email statement 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 continued.

An FAA spokesperson pointed Fox Business towards Dickson's comments from his recent Senate hearing exchange with Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Dickson said he had "spoken with the air carriers and with several of the pilot union leaders, as well as our own leaders within the agency" and that he was "not seeing any staffing impact from the vaccine mandate itself."

"The event that we had a few weeks ago with Southwest down in Florida was due to a combination of factors," Dickson said in the hearing. "The difficulties that we're seeing with some airline's operations right now, frankly, is in my estimation, is due more to changes in consumer behavior.

"All of the algorithms that they used to plan their schedules were disrupted in March 2020," he continued. Dickson also said that "these kinds of things are just taking some time to catch up on the system" and that "it is creating more operational exposure when there are disruptive events such as convective weather in the system."