U.S. aviation regulators will begin recalling some inspectors from furloughs as the government shutdown enters its second week.
The Federal Aviation Administration this week will bring back more than 800 employees who were considered not essential for safety and sent home without pay when the partial shutdown began Oct. 1.
About three-quarters of those employees provide oversight of major airlines. Most of the others will oversee the “most critical” production of aircraft and parts, according to an agency statement e-mailed today.
“The FAA is constantly evaluating safety risk in the system,” the agency said in the statement. “As the government shutdown continues, the agency will determine whether additional employees need to be recalled to provide oversight of potential risk.”
All 3,000 of the FAA’s aviation safety inspectors, who oversee airlines, maintenance shops and aircraft manufacturers, have been furloughed. The potential for disruptions and heightened risk increases every day they are off the job, Kori Blalock Keller, spokeswoman for the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union, said in an interview.
“This isn’t sustainable,” Keller said. “Everyone knows it.”
Many U.S. government services have been shuttered for a week and the country is 10 days away from running out of borrowing authority. Congressional Republicans are insisting on changing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which requires most Americans to have insurance or pay a penalty, while President Barack Obama refuses to discuss policy conditions tied to reopening the government or raising the debt limit.
The FAA furloughed 15,514 employees on Oct. 1 out of a workforce of 46,000, according to a Transportation Department plan for the shutdown. About 2,500 employees may be recalled gradually over a two-week period, according to the plan.
The agency’s air-traffic controllers are working. Operations funded by the FAA’s Airport and Airway Trust Fund, such as construction grants to airports, have also continued uninterrupted. The trust fund earns revenue from taxes on airline tickets and fuel instead of general funds.
While safety inspectors were sent home, other union members who maintain the FAA’s navigation and air-traffic equipment remained on the job, Keller said.
The shutdown is also beginning to cripple parts of the private aircraft market, Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association, a Washington-based trade group, said in an interview.
The FAA has closed its registry of aircraft ownership, halting sales, Bolen said. As many as 10,000 aircraft a month may be grounded if registrations can’t be renewed, he said. His group represents corporate flight departments and aircraft dealers.
“As long as the registry is closed, there is going to be a significant impact,” he said.
Bolen, who sent a letter to Obama and congressional leaders today, said the registry has an underlying safety function and should be exempted from the shutdown.
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