Helena airport leaders: No major effects from government shutdown

Posted at 6:30 PM, Jan 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-25 20:52:31-05

HELENA – Airport leaders in Helena said Friday they didn’t have any operational issues connected to the 35-day federal government shutdown.

There were reports from some airports of federal employees calling in sick instead of working without pay. But Helena Regional Airport director Jeff Wadekamper said they did not have any Transportation Security Administration agents, air traffic controllers or customs agents missing shifts.

“They’ve been extremely dedicated, coming to work every day, doing their job,” he said. “They still have a good attitude, still have a smile on their face and greeting customers. But it’s been a struggle. You feel for them.”

On Friday, some larger airports on the East Coast, including New York’s LaGuardia Airport, experienced flight delays because of staffing shortages. Wadekamper said Helena was far enough away that they didn’t see any aftereffects from that.

Several local businesses and community members offered donations to help support the people working without pay at the airport.

“The community has been extremely generous,” Wadekamper said.

Wadekamper said Mediterranean Grill, SkyWest Airlines and the Smokejumper Station restaurant all provided meals for federal employees.

“We know little things like that – it certainly doesn’t replace a paycheck, but just a gesture to really thank them for sticking with it and being dedicated and just letting them know that we appreciate what they do and that their work’s not going unnoticed,” he said.

Some people tried to raise cash to support the workers, but Wadekamper said they were not able to accept it because of federal ethics standards.

Airport leaders are hopeful there will soon be a resolution for funding the federal government. The U.S. House and Senate approved an agreement Friday to reopen the government for three weeks while Republicans and Democrats try to reach an deal on funding for border security. That agreement went to President Donald Trump’s desk.