Length of shutdown will determine aviation impact

Air traffic control spared, certification delays possible

October 2, 2013

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the potential impact of the government shutdown on aircraft financing and new-aircraft deliveries.

Government shutdown

The federal government shutdown that began Oct. 1 will not disrupt air traffic control or cut into flight service or notam-distribution operations. But pilots could feel the bite of a prolonged shutdown in delayed medical certification, slower processing of pilot certificates, unrepaired navaids, and numerous other FAA functions as a result of staff furloughs.

Those effects of the partial government shutdown were identified in an analysis by AOPA’s Government Affairs Department, which will keep AOPA members informed about the changing implications of the deadlock between the House and Senate over funding the federal government for fiscal 2014.

Financing an aircraft purchase could be slowed by lack of access to title searches, and the recording of other sales documents such as liens will be on hold. Delays in assigning N-numbers could affect new-aircraft deliveries, and requests for expedited handling may not be processed in cases where an aircraft must be permanently registered prior to an international flight.  

Also, the two largest airmen knowledge testing centers issued a joint message warning of possible delays and scheduling complications if the shutdown is still in effect as of midnight Oct. 4.

Federal and contract control towers will not see service cutbacks or closures from the stalemate, unlike the circumstances that arose at the beginning of the federal budget sequester in spring 2013. Contract control towers faced a threat of widespread closings during that budget crisis until a last-ditch funding mechanism was devised. 

Flight service and the distribution of notices to airmen should also proceed without interruption in the current shutdown—but other services remain vulnerable.

For example, no instrument procedures will be modified or developed during the government shutdown because of staff furloughs. Depending on the length of the shutdown, maintenance of infrastructure such as navaids could suffer, as facilities-inspection staff furloughs take their toll.

Also subject to furlough are aviation safety inspectors responsible for oversight, certification, and surveillance in areas including general aviation, commercial aviation, pilots, flight instructors, and repair stations.

Digital and printed aeronautical chart updates, downloads, and release dates could face delays, depending on how long the shutdown endures.

Little disruption of operations would affect the FAA’s Research, Engineering and Development operations in fiscal 2014; its fiscal 2013 appropriation is effective for three years.

The FAA employees that administer Airport Improvement Program grants also are exempt from furlough because they are paid out of an account not affected by the budget impasse. However, accounting personnel who issue their paychecks face furloughs.

Another group of employees subject to furlough are the FAA staffers who work in rulemaking, train uncertified air traffic controllers, develop the Next Generation Air Traffic System, work in facilities and equipment capital planning, provide air traffic performance analysis, and perform legal and administrative activities.

According to the joint message posted on the websites of the knowledge-testing centers, all sites will be allowed to continue administering knowledge tests through midnight Oct. 4. Electronic results from recent examinations will not be available, and FAA support for test providers and applicants will be unavailable.

Airman applicants may still register for test appointments in hope that the shutdown will be discontinued, but scheduled tests during an extended shutdown would have to be rescheduled. Applicants should check frequently for updates.

AOPA will continue to assess the changing situation and report to members on the impact of congressional action on the budget.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.