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‘We're not paying our power bills:’ Seattle FAA engineer warns of government shutdown impacts

The impacts of the government shutdown are only beginning to be felt. Air traffic controllers say the long-term impacts of the shutdown will be felt for years as work has halted on critical projects across the country.

Some 6,300 projects are going on at airports across the country right now, from the replacement of mechanical systems in Auburn to planning for upgrades at Sea-Tac International Airport.

And work has stopped on all of them.

"This shutdown has already damaged the system, and it's going to continue to erode as it goes on," said Curt Howe, regional vice president for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Howe believes the full effects of the ongoing government shutdown haven't even begun to be felt at airports, and the cost to taxpayers is mounting.

RELATED: Seattle air traffic controllers concerned about safety as government shutdown drags on

"The demobilization and re-mobilization costs of starting those projects up again when this mess is over is going to be hundreds of millions of dollars," said Howe.

Another major concern is the number of workers left to man the towers once the shutdown ends.

The number of air traffic controllers is at a 30-year low, and Howe says some furloughed controllers have already moved on to other jobs. Others have retired and replacing them will take years.

The center that trains them sits closed until the government reopens.

"A controller is like firewood. You have to hire them, train them and season them before they become competent in the control tower,” Howe explained. “That takes quite a bit of time."

RELATED: US air travel could be 'crippled' if shutdown goes on, unions warn

Some 15,000 air traffic controllers and support staff are currently furloughed or working without pay.

The prospects for an agreement to reopen federal agencies appear grim, as does the financial future of the FAA. Howe says the FAA might literally not be able to keep the lights on for much longer.

"We're not paying our power bills, either. Maybe that's something the public needs to know," says Howe. "The FAA promised to pay them through February, but we have no idea when the end is in sight for this thing. This needs to stop now."

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