Anchorage air traffic controller Brandon Berg just worked through a two-week pay period which included overtime and holidays.

But his paycheck from the Federal Aviation Administration reflects not his long hours helping keep people safe in planes that took off and landed at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, but the partial federal government shutdown in Washington D.C. over President Trump's demand that Democrats in Congress fund a border wall.

"$2.61," Berg said, reading the check's final amount.

Berg and many federal air traffic controllers across Alaska are considered "essential" employees, who are working for free while the government shutdown continues. Essential employees working now are expected to be paid when the shutdown ends; in the meantime, they are responsible for their own bills.

Berg has two children, 5 and 8 years old, along with a mortgage.

"Anybody is going to struggle if you stay out too long, myself included in that; I only have so much money," Berg said. "I have other things that are pressing too, you know? I just replaced my boiler, actually, two months ago, so that cost me eight grand – so that kind of dissolved a lot of my savings."

"We're in the middle of kind of a partisan battle that we shouldn't be involved in," said Clinten Lancaster, vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association's Alaska region. "We should be able to have the political process run its course without using federal employees as sort of bargaining chips in the middle of it."

Lancaster is concerned about furloughed staff who support air traffic controllers, such as those who fix light bulbs on runways to help planes land in bad weather, along with other staff who take care of facilities. He says there are hundreds of people who keep the air traffic control system running.

"So while the controllers are up in the towers keeping things safe, keeping things running, the system that they rely on is eroding," Lancaster said. "This is the busiest, most complex airspace system in the entire world, and eventually we're not going to be able to efficiently do it without our support system. Aviation-wise, that's a huge impact."

Lancaster says people who would typically look into an incident, such as two planes getting too close to each other in the air or on the ground, are also furloughed right now. He says if something like that happened, officials may not take a closer look until the shutdown is over.

The FAA released a statement to KTVA in response to a request for comment about the shutdown related to air traffic control operations.

"The traveling public can be assured that our nation's airspace system is safe," the statement read. "Air traffic controllers and the technicians who maintain the nation’s airspace system continue to work without pay as they fill a critical mission to ensure the public's safety.  We are allocating FAA resources based on risk assessment to meet all safety critical functions. We continue to proactively conduct risk assessment, and when we identify an issue we act and recall our inspectors and engineers, as appropriate, to address them."

Copyright KTVA 2019. All rights reserved.

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