Austin pilots give back to air traffic controllers working without pay


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Dozens of air traffic controllers are keeping Austin-Bergstrom International Airport functioning smoothly through the longest government shutdown in US history — and all without a paycheck. 

Friday was the first payday since the shutdown began and while hundreds of thousands of federal workers can expect to be paid for the work they put in during the shutdown, they are not receiving paychecks until it ends. Tuesday marks Day 25 of the shutdown. 

Austin pilots want to do what they can to help their aviation fellows who are affected by the shutdown. 

“Those controllers have always had my back, during the normal flights and the rare times that I’ve had a slight abnormal flight that caused me concern,” Ken VeArd said, a longtime pilot.

VeArd recently posted on social media asking his fellow pilots to help him give back to ABIA’s controllers.

“I just made a post saying this is what I am thinking about doing and before I knew it, it just got out of control,” he said. “Whether you need diapers, milk or eggs, or even if all you need is a six pack of beer,” VeArd hopes it’s the small things that will make a difference. 

He’s been buying $20 gift cards from H-E-B for the controllers. 

“My biggest concern with this thing is that we try to do something nice for our air traffic control friends and it turns out to be a problem, we don’t want to make problems any worse than it is,” VeArd said. “So we capped it at $20.”

While Federal Aviation Administration ethics code does not allow employees to receive gifts, VeArd said they have gotten the green light from the local office.

“It has come down the pipe that they are allowed to receive reasonable gifts. So it would not be acceptable for us to take them out for a steak and lobster dinner but a $20 gift card for necessities would be concerned a reasonable gift,” he said. 

So far, VeArd and his fellow pilots have raised more than $1,000 in gift cards. VeArd said they hope this will provide some relief until controllers’ start to receive their paychecks again. 

“This is just a temporary road bump for now, but when you hit that road bump it can be extremely impactful and really hurt so anything we can do,” he said. 

On Tuesday night, VeArd will meet to collect gift cards from his fellow pilots and he said they plan to deliver the gift cards to the controllers on Wednesday.

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