No TSA problems at Kahului Airport for now

But things could begin to change with no checks at week’s end

KAHULUI — Airport and Transportation Security Administration officials report business as usual at Kahului Airport despite the partial federal government shutdown moving into its 18th day Tuesday and national reports of staff shortages slowing air travel.

Maui District Airports Manager Marvin Moniz said Tuesday that some TSA staff have called in sick but no more than usual around the holidays. He said reports of longer lines could be attributed to higher passenger counts during this time of year, with travel usually tapering down around Jan. 6 or 7.

A local TSA safety inspector confirmed Moniz’s assessment Tuesday, saying there was nothing out of the ordinary in daily operations. However, the inspector pointed out that federal workers are supposed to receive a paycheck at the end of the week and that things could change.

The inspector spoke on condition of anonymity because federal workers have been ordered not to do media interviews, the worker said.

The partial shutdown is the result of a stalemate between President Donald Trump and Congress over the president’s demand for funds to build a wall on the border with Mexico. Trump made a nationally televised address Tuesday to appeal for an end to the stalemate.

“In my interactions with coworkers, they blame Congress more than Trump,” the inspector said. “I really didn’t expect that but it seems to be the consensus.”

The inspector said there haven’t been any “real issues” yet, and there is no big difference in holiday staffing numbers this year compared to last year. Morale remains relatively high despite what could be a substantial delay in getting paid.

“But like I said, that will probably change if nothing gets resolved this week,” the inspector said.

Across the nation, 10,000 air traffic controllers who work for the Federal Aviation Administration, about 51,000 TSA officers and an undisclosed number of federal air marshals have been told to keep reporting to work because they are deemed essential. Government employees have been paid after past shutdowns ended, and that is the widespread expectation this time, too.

An Associated Press report Monday said that air travel is last on the list to be impacted by the partial shutdown, following the closure of some government buildings and national parks. Airports around the U.S. are starting to see longer lines, apparently as a result of TSA staff shortages, the AP reported.

Ron Williams, a Pukalani resident who commutes weekdays between Maui and Oahu, said Tuesday that the airports were “very slow” on both the Honolulu and Maui sides since the partial government shutdown began.

Moniz said the delays at Kahului Airport were the result of larger volumes of passengers.

“Some days we are processing 13,000 passengers,” he said. “We do 12,000 on a typical day, so it’s still above normal.”

Moniz expressed uncertainty about what would happen to Kahului Airport operations if the partial shutdown continued past the end of the week and federal workers are not paid.

“It’s a longer issue now,” Moniz said. “The impact is going beyond a whole pay cycle” if the shutdown continues past this week.

TSA spokesman Jim Gregory said that the agency has a team of officers who can go to airports facing a shortage, which is a strategy developed in case natural disasters prevented screeners from getting to work.

* The Associated Press contributed to this report. Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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