July 21, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
AOPA secured assurances July 22 that pilots' ability to fly will not be impaired after Congress adjourned for the week without extending the FAA's operating authority, resulting in program shutdowns and furloughs, but no interruptions in air traffic control, flight service, notam processing, or other critical functions.
The FAA was to begin shutting down programs and ordering furloughs of an estimated 4,000 employees as the July 22 deadline passed without congressional action to extend the FAA's authority to spend funds from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. The FAA said it had already stopped processing new airport grants.
The shutdown mainly affects programs funded by the Airport Improvement Program, Facilities and Equipment, and Research, Engineering and Development accounts, said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt in a message to staffers sent earlier in the week.
FAA officials told AOPA that air traffic control and notam processing will continue as usual, flight service will remain open, and the aeromedical and aircraft registry branches will continue to operate.
Through the week, Congress failed to agree on a long-term FAA reauthorization measure, with the House of Representatives passing a two-month extension that contained policy provisions rejected by the Senate, and the Senate voting for a "clean" extension that funded airport capital grants through the end of fiscal 2011.
"I'm very disappointed that Congress adjourned today without passing a clean extension of the FAA bill," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement issued after Congress adjourned Friday. "Because of their inaction, states and airports won't be able to work on their construction projects, and too many people will have to go without a paycheck. This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world."
"These are real people with families who do not deserve to be put out of work during these tough economic times," said Babbitt. It would be up to Congress to decide whether laid-off FAA employees will be paid for time spent on furlough, he said.
Anticipating a shutdown, the FAA announced that the Airport Improvement Program had stopped processing new airport grants, shutting off roughly $2.5 billion for airport projects nationwide. States and individual airports also will see funds withheld; Florida is now unable to tap more than $40 million, and California now has no access to $38 million, with other states also cut off from funds for which they are eligible.
Furloughs will be widespread and include many "engineers, scientists, research analysts, administrative assistants, computer specialists, program managers and analysts, environmental protection specialists, and community planners," said the statement.
Pilots can check the FAA website and FAA Facebook page for the latest updates on the issues.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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