Commercial, Regulation

With No End in Sight, Government Shutdown Chafes Aviation Industry

U.S. Capitol

The U.S. Capitol building in winter, seen down Delaware Ave. (Phil Roeder, CC)

It has been 19 days since the beginning of the U.S. government’s partial shutdown amid political infighting over funding for President Trump’s proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and aviation organizations are agitating at the lost work or wages suffered by furloughed workers.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) Tuesday circulated a letter sent from the Federal-Postal Coalition, of which it and 20 other organization are members, to the U.S. Senate and President on Jan. 3. In it, Coalition Chair Kori Blalock Keller urged officials to reopen the government.

“Approximately 800,000 federal employees are furloughed or required to work without pay and do not know if, or even when, they will be paid for this time,” Blalock Keller wrote in the letter. “Like most Americans, federal employees have financial obligations that cannot be placed on hold, and many cannot afford to be locked out of their jobs or go without their paychecks. Delayed payments have a real economic cost – interest charges, late fees, lowered credit scores, loss of trust from creditors or landlords. Federal workers should not be forced to do chores for their landlords – as suggested by the Administration – instead of working for the American people.”

Since 2011, federal employees have had more than $200 billion taken from their pay and benefits as a result of pay freezes, furloughs, and increased retirement contributions, according to Blalock Keller. Government funding “is one of the most important responsibilities of Congress and the President” and lapses compromise national security, disaster relief and economic growth, she said.

On Jan. 10, two days after the letter’s dissemination and a week after it was penned, the NATCA plans to host a rally in downtown Washington demanding an end to the government shutdown. Speakers outside of the organization will include Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Oregon Democrat Rep. Peter DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee. Other groups sending executives include Airlines for America, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the Airline Pilots Association, Professional Aviation Safety Specialists and the General Aviation Manufacturer’s Association (GAMA).

GAMA has been reaching out to its members, according to Director of Communications Sarah McCann, and found that “members are experiencing impacts similar to the [shutdown in] 2013, but concern is growing as this partial government shutdown approaches lasting longer than all prior shutdowns.”

Impacts from the government shutdown on GAMA members include a halting of product development, due to the FAA’s required involvement at key milestones during the certification and validation of aircraft and modification to aircraft and equipment. Further, any manufacturers whose authorizations expire during the shutdown are unable to continue to do work until the FAA is back at full operational capacity.

Pilot training and qualifying pilot examiners is impossible due to the FAA’s required involvement in authorizing tests and issuing material, GAMA said. Additionally, non-routine aircraft registrations are not being processed, as attorneys at the Aeronautical Center Counsel have been deemed non-essential, and “specific FAA concurrence for flight authorizations, issuance of operational authorizations, and changes to operators’ certificates have also stopped” during the shutdown. These things all reduce the ability of operators to operate and trade aircraft and require additional operating costs, according to GAMA.

“We appreciate that Congress acted to keep the FAA Oklahoma City Aircraft Registry Office functioning during a government shutdown, but we are very concerned about the potential effects of a prolonged shutdown on other elements of FAA operations, including certification,” McCann said. “We ask the President and Congress to act in a bipartisan manner to end this shutdown as quickly as possible.”

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