BTR air traffic controllers thankful for shutdown deal

BTR air traffic controllers thankful for community support during shutdown

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Thousands of Louisiana families are resting a bit easier this weekend after lawmakers reached a deal to reopen the federal government. Now, they wait to see when they’ll get their missing paychecks, and how long the deal will last.

“Just a sigh of relief. You go from complete uncertainty to a level of euphoria,” said Mathew Lehnert, Baton Rouge representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA).

Lehnert says the 35-day shutdown was stressful on his young family, especially since his wife works alongside him in the tower. The couple missed four paychecks combined.

“As soon as we found out, me and my wife ran to the grocery store,” he said. “And then we had to think how many of these creditors do we have to start talking to that we owe money.”

His sense of relief comes with a big but. Federal employees across the country are again at the mercy of politicians who must reach a permanent deal by February 15.

“Three weeks… while it gets money in the bank account for now, what’s going to happen?” Lehnert wondered. “There’s all sorts of scenarios that can spring up.”

As facility representative for the Baton Rouge Metro Airport, Lehnert hopes government shutdowns don’t become a regular bargaining tool. He worries the uncertainty will drive people away from a career that’s so essential to the country.

“We have a staffing crisis on our hands as it is. We need stable funding. Period,” he said.

Regardless of what happens, Lehnert says his crew is grateful for the outpouring of support from the community. A pilot and his wife recently showed up at the control tower with a full spread of food. Congressman Garret Graves even delivered several bags of groceries.

“We will not soon forget that. That is incredibly helpful,” Lehnert said. “Between Ruby Slipper and all the local firefighters’ union, the police officers’ union, everybody has reached out to us.”

Now, he’s looking forward to something that he missed out on for 35 days: good sleep.

“I’ll probably get about four or five hours extra a night than I was while I wasn’t receiving a paycheck in that time of uncertainty," he said.

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