October 8, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
As the federal government shutdown continued into its second week, AOPA joined with other general aviation associations in calling on the Secretary of Transportation to reopen the FAA’s United States Aircraft Registry to prevent paralysis in sales and delivery of aircraft.
AOPA was encouraged by reports that the FAA had recalled some inspectors, engineers, and other staff in positions concerned with operational safety. But one program of importance to pilots—airman knowledge testing—was already temporarily shut down, as testing centers had warned would happen last week.
A group of senators led by General Aviation Caucus member John Boozman (R-Ark.) and AOPA member and GA Caucus member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) have sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta urging him to review the decision to close the agency’s aircraft registry office during the ongoing federal government shutdown.
The registry’s closure is "inflicting unnecessary hardship" on the aviation industry by preventing the delivery of newly manufactured aircraft to their purchasers, the senators wrote. The five signers of the letter also noted that the registry had remained open "during previous lapses in appropriated funding," and asked Huerta to explain the rationale "for this inconsistency."
The Oct. 9 letter cited the registry’s role in the protection of life, as a mechanism for fulfilling international legal obligations, and for safeguarding national security as providing the legal basis for reopening the office before the political dispute over the federal fiscal 2014 is resolved.
A law passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks requires that aircraft be registered every three years to help identify terrorism threats, and the registry’s closure makes that tool "unavailable to law enforcement officers," the letter says.
"We appreciate the leadership on this issue from Sens. Boozman and Inhofe," said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs.
The letter’s other signers were Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), all members of the Senate GA Caucus. A copy of the correspondence was sent to Transportation Secretary Anthony R. Foxx.
The aircraft registry’s closure under the government shutdown that began Oct. 1 precludes aircraft deliveries and could freeze transactions affecting as many as 130 aircraft valued at $1.5 billion by mid-October, the associations wrote.
Denial of access to registry services "encompasses any aircraft that is sold domestically, exported, or imported as these transactions require FAA approval and must receive a certificate of aircraft registration to process financing."
The Oct. 8 letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony R. Foxx requests that the department "restore the full functioning" of the aircraft registration branch, citing legal authority based on the FAA’s past characterization of the office as an "essential function for public safety, security and compliance with international treaty obligations."
The registry’s shutdown was having "profound ramifications" for the aircraft manufacturing industry and workforce, the letter added.
The associations also commended Foxx for his actions to "bring off furlough" some FAA employees in safety-related jobs.
Signing the letter were AOPA President Mark Baker; National Business Aviation Association President Ed Bolen; Experimental Aircraft Association President Jack Pelton; General Aviation Manufacturers Association President Pete Bunce; Helicopter Association International President Matthew Zuccaro; and National Air Transportation Association President Thomas Hendricks.
So far, the federal government shutdown that began Oct. 1 had not disrupted air traffic control or cut into flight service or notam-distribution operations. But pilots could feel the bite of a continuing 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 were identified in an analysis by AOPA’s Government Affairs department, which will keep AOPA members informed about the changing implications of the political deadlock over funding the federal government for fiscal 2014.
In another development, several notams advised pilots that three airports on the North Carolina Outer Banks that are run by the National Park Service were closed.
The federal and contract control towers at the nation’s airports have not seen service cutbacks or closures threatened in the spring at the beginning of the federal budget sequester. At that time, contract control towers faced a threat of widespread closings until a last-ditch funding mechanism was devised to end that budget crisis
Other services remain vulnerable, however. For example, no instrument procedures will be modified or developed during the shutdown if staff furloughs persist, and maintenance of infrastructure such as navaids remains questionable.
Also subject to furlough have been 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 Transportation System, work in facilities and equipment capital planning, provide air traffic performance analysis, and perform legal and administrative activities.
According to an updated message that could be viewed Oct.8 on the websites of the major knowledge-testing centers, the FAA’s airman knowledge test program had been temporarily suspended. Airman applicants could 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 were advised to 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 is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
The federal government shutdown will not disrupt air traffic control or cut into flight service or notam-distribution operations. But pilots could still feel its bite.
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