The partial government shutdown, in effect since Dec. 22, 2018, is hitting the aviation industry hard.
According to an update sent to members of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), the aviation industry is one of the industries hardest hit by the shutdown, which has stopped work on new aircraft certification, interactions between FAA and other nations, some aircraft registrations, commercial drone flight authorizations, aircraft mechanic licenses, introduction of new air traffic technology and airport construction approvals.
Air traffic controllers, considered “essential” employees, have been on the job, but without pay.
Other aviation-specific fall-out from the shutdown listed by NATA officials:
- The delivery of Airbus and Embraer-made airplanes has been disrupted because the federal employees who must give their seal of approval to move forward aren’t working.
- One NATA member company has two aircraft stranded in Canada as a result of the shutdown. The newly purchased planes were being painted and need a special FAA approval before they can be flown back to the US. The member company and numerous operators have encountered issues obtaining ferry permits and/or special flight permits, affecting both domestic and international-bound flights. NATA officials say they are working to clarify whether Designated Airworthiness Representatives (DAR) could facilitate permissions for certain things, such as ferrying permits, without FAA approval. But the furlough has affected the agency’s DAR oversight, making it unclear whether they can take these steps.
- NetJets hasn’t been able to add new aircraft into its operations.
- The halting of FAA knowledge testing and check rides is creating scheduling issues and delays for certain organizations.
- Companies are unable to obtain decals from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), but the agency is accepting receipts that show a decal has been ordered.
- Regarding flight training, training center evaluators’ qualifications are expiring and there is a backlog of qualifications for flight simulators. This is making it impossible for organizations to conduct critical training activities resulting in severe economic impacts because the organizations cannot schedule training activities. “As a temporary solution to this problem, we request that the FAA allow qualified examiners, instructors, courses, and simulators that were current as of Friday, Dec. 19, 2018, to retain their qualification status until the government reopens,” NATA officials noted.
- Flight Safety International is reporting the inability to conduct training and they have had multiple requests/delays/cancellations associated with cancelled TCE Training classes, cancelled TCE observations, delayed course approvals, no approval of remote site training requests, updates to simulator MQTGs (T011) are not being signed by the TCPM/TPAA, course enrollment waivers are not being approved, course prerequisite waivers are not being approved, client Temporary Airman Certificates are expiring, revisions to Training Specifications are not being signed/approved and letters of Verification for foreign Pilots are not being processed.
- Companies that provide training for pilots require regular authorizations by the FAA to issue certificates; these training providers need certain qualifications which they may lose due to the shutdown and this could halt pilot training and may prevent aircraft from having the necessary crews to operate.
- While the aircraft registry has remained open during the shutdown, thanks to the passage of the FAA reauthorization bill, the furlough of other FAA resources has restricted the registry from operating to its fullest potential, NATA officials report. The registry is only one part of an integrated system. For example, owners can register aircraft, but can’t fly them.
- Also, attorneys have been deemed non-essential, so non-routine registrations aren’t being processed. Aviation safety inspectors are furloughed, so new aircraft can’t be added to OpSpecs.
- In December, days before the shutdown, a member company (along with a medical client) took delivery of two new CJ3+ aircraft. While the companies worked to race conformity documentation to their inspections so that the client can transport surgeons and organs, the shutdown prevented them from going into the right hands, resulting in two new aircraft that are sitting in hangars, unable to fly because they are not able to obtain the OpSpecs signed approving them to operate. According to the member company, the aircraft, once flying, will save at least one life almost every time they fly. The shutdown is preventing these aircraft from entering service and saving lives.
Effects at Federal Agencies
According to the Congressional Research Service, when federal agencies and programs lack funding after the expiration of full-year or interim appropriations, the agencies and programs experience a funding gap. If funding does not resume in time to continue government operations, then, under the Antideficiency Act, an agency must cease operations, except in certain situations when law authorizes continued activity (essential operations).
Agencies, like the FAA, are required under law to cease non-essential operations and cannot act while there is a lapse in funding. When funding does resume, and the shutdown ends, all non-essential operations will restart, creating a backlog of work that will take months to catch up.
Nearly 18,000 FAA workers involved in a range of activities from airmen certificate issuance to NextGen development are on furlough, with others facing the prospect of working without compensation until the government reopens.
TSA agents have begun to call in sick more often, meaning longer lines at airport security checkpoints and perhaps less security.
The FAA has begun to recall a handful of its 3,000 safety inspectors; they are required to sign off on thousands of transactions, from pilot licenses to layers of approvals as necessary.
NATA officials note that “100% of Federal Highway Administration employees are working, exempt from the furlough because their positions are funded by the Highway Trust Fund. This shows it is more important than ever that we push to return the billions of dollars of aviation taxes currently being funneled into the Highway Trust Fund and return them to the important work of modernizing our nation’s aviation infrastructure, and pay the workers who make that happen during future government shutdowns.”
The House recently passed appropriations bills that would reopen shuttered agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security and Transportation, but President Trump’s veto threats and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) vow to not bring funding bills to the floor without Presidential support will keep the legislation from going any further, further stalling any progress. Negotiations between the President and Congressional leaders is ongoing.