October 08, 2013
The FAA, sticking to the U.S. Transportation Department (DOT) plan laid out to cope with a prolonged partial government closure, has called in more than 800 Office of Aviation Safety employees responsible for both field inspections and certification of “critical” products.
The recalls include more than 600 Flight Standards staffers, including safety inspectors, and 200 Aircraft Certification service employees, the FAA says. The agency also called in a handful of physicians and support staff in its Office of Aerospace Medicine to support industry drug and alcohol testing programs.
“As the government shutdown continues, the agency will determine whether additional employees need to be recalled to provide oversight of potential risk,” the FAA says in a statement. “Over the course of the government shutdown, the FAA expects to recall support staff to address emergency needs.”
The FAA’s aircraft registry office—declared “essential” during the 1995-96 government shutdown—remains closed, meaning aircraft ownership cannot legally change hands, new planes cannot be registered, and existing registrations, which expire at the rate of about 10,000 per month, cannot be renewed. The situation has at least two airliners—a JetBlue Airways Airbus A321 and a US Airways Airbus A330—stranded in Hamburg and Toulouse, respectively, awaiting paperwork that will clear them for delivery to their carriers. Both airlines were scheduled to take possession of their aircraft last week.
The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) tells members that the FAA has not adopted a so-called “mailbox” rule that would allow duplicate registrations and bills of sale mailed to FAA to serve as an alternative registration process.
“While mailing an application may allow owners to fly on a ‘pink copy’—temporary authorization to fly in U.S.—this likely does not mean rights in the aircraft are properly perfected,” an NBAA statement says. A pink copy is a 90-day authorization for intra-U.S. operations only, the association notes.
The DOT surprised many by including the 3,000 FAA Flight Standards inspectors in the original count of 15,500 FAA employees furloughed when the government partially shut down Oct. 1. However, the DOT’s plan, released Sept. 27, noted that about 2,400 inspectors and other key staff would be brought back “incrementally” over a two-week period if the shutdown persisted.
The Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS), which represents many of the safety employees furloughed, says that the recall—while an improvement—still leaves the industry at risk.
“PASS appreciates the FAA working within the constraints of this government shutdown to bring back critical safety employees, but we stand firm in the belief that all 3,000 aviation safety inspectors need to be back on the job immediately,” a union spokeswoman says. “Before this shutdown, understaffing of the aviation safety inspector workforce was a serious issue; now, for every minute these inspectors are off the job, the backlog of their oversight and surveillance continues to grow.”