Plenty of the FAA’s functions are working correctly amid the ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government. But plenty more aren't. What's the ripple effect as the partial shutdown approaches the end of its sixth week? Dave Higdon reviews...
Aviation practitioners seem grateful for the areas that continue to function more-or-less normally. Pilots continue to receive clearances, file and fly on instrument flight plans and receive the separation services warranted. The controllers continue to show up for work. And the federal government continues to shortchange their paychecks.
This near-normal level of ATC activity, however, masks the many other areas of FAA activities that have gone askew.
For most of the shutdown, FAA safety inspectors have sat at home, not getting paid for not performing their jobs. Then last week the government ordered those 11,000+ inspectors back to work, though they're still not getting paid. But someone wised up to the need for continuity in safety inspections – particularly of air-carrier operations. So now inspectors are catching up on safety surveillance – and not getting paid.
Check rides are going un-flown. Certificate upgrades aren't being flown. New pilot certificates and new type ratings aren't being issued. Ditto for other ‘administrative’ functions such as changing existing authorizations and issuing new letters of authorization (LOA).
Even flight training with simulators is suffering due to a lack of FAA staff available to keep those simulators certified and approved for the training they provide.
The Knock-On Effect…
These issues all, ultimately, trickle down to the ramp, the pilot lounge, to human resources which can't place new pilots because of a lack of authorization.
Similarly, imports of foreign-built aircraft are suffering from the lack of people available to inspect and approve the process. You can't even get a new 2019 decal from Customs and Border Protection, though officials will accept a receipt showing the CBP decal has been ordered and paid for.
Essential, or Non-Essential?
The only aspect of the FAA's activities outside ATC continuing to work normally, more-or-less, if the FAA Registry in Oklahoma City. That was a lesson learned during a prior shutdown, when billions of dollars in aircraft transactions were on-hold because the registry was not deemed essential.
Thanks to lobbying pressure from virtually all corners of aviation, that one function was cited and deemed essential in the FAA reauthorization passed last year. Maybe Congress should deem all FAA functions essential, either in the next reauthorization bill, or preferably sooner in a stand-alone bill.
Aviation is not something that can be turned on and off like water from a tap. As this shutdown enters its sixth week the strains from this shutdown are starting to show. So let's designate all FAA functions as essential to end this lunacy permanently.