The partial shutdown of the , due to Congress’s failure to extend a reauthorization bill, has expanded into stop-work orders on airport construction and is threatening plans to spend $2.5 billion of Airport Improvement Program (AIP) money on expansion projects, including the Next Generation air transportation system (NextGen).
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt are preparing a “game plan” with White House advisers in an attempt to persuade Congress to take quick action and extend the FAA reauthorization bill for the 21st time since September 2007. LaHood said he would welcome legislation that would fund the agency for five to six years, but would settle for another extension.
Babbitt said the shutdown deprives the government of $30 million in revenue each day that it collects from passenger surcharges and waybills for cargo. Because it lost its authority to access the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, he said the agency was forced to delay contracts for new air traffic control towers at Cleveland and Fort Lauderdale.
Hundreds of employees at more than 50 engineering companies joined 4,000 FAA personnel who were furloughed over the weekend. The shutdown exacted a heavy toll on the FAA’s airports division. Project managers who oversee construction were among engineers, scientists, research analysts, computer specialists and planners who were sent home.
Work on 10 new control towers was stopped, including towers at nw York John F. Kennedy, Oakland, Las Vegas and Memphis airports. Construction was idled for en route centers at Memphis, Jacksonville and Atlanta, and a replacement Tracon at Houston. The shutdown also brought work to a halt on a $24.3 million FAA Command Center in Warrenton, Va., and a multitude of small projects, such as an $18,000 paint job by Standard Builders Inc., at Memphis.
The shutdown most heavily affects Jacobs Engineering of Pasadena, Calif., with contracts valued at $370 million in eight states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Jacobs is under contract to perform architectural and engineering services and construction of en route centers and Tracons. Archer Western Contractors has contracts for the towers at Las Vegas, Abilene, Texas, and Traverse City, Mich.
The California Airports Council said it was advised by the FAA that the state stands to lose $131.5 million of authorized and appropriated entitlement funding for its 30 commercial airports. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, council President Alan L. Murphy said, “Bringing this economic growth to a halt is the wrong action for Congress to take at this critical time.” He asked Boehner to instruct committees to bring a clean bill for a vote.
Delays to funding could shelve other projects for the year if they’re not started soon, according to the Airports Council International–North America (ACI-NA). That’s especially true in northern states where the construction season is short. For example, Glacier International Airport in Kalispell, Mont., needs funding for a $5 million taxiway rehab project by Aug. 1, or it will have to scuttle the project, along with more than 70 jobs in a community where the unemployment rate is 13%, according to ACI-NA.
Continuing delay in funding the agency will threaten plans to inspect runways and certificate five airports for the-8 operations by a Sept. 1 deadline, Babbitt said. LaHood and the FAA administrator insisted that the partial shutdown will have no impact on key safety initiatives or operations, such as air traffic control.
The shutdown issue came to a boil late last week after the House approved an extension that cut the Essential Air Service program for rural communities. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said he had hoped the action would inspire the Senate to negotiate a new FAA reauthorization bill. But Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) raised objections on procedural grounds and twice tried to pass extensions without EAS provisions. Congress adjourned for the weekend before he could get unanimous agreement from the full Senate.
By Monday afternoon, Congress was consumed with debate over the debt ceiling and neither side had budged on the FAA issue. But at the end of the day, Rockefeller issued a statement pushing House leadership to convene a conference meeting by Wednesday. “Mica testified before the House Rules Committee that he and Speaker Boehner could begin a conference in ‘an hour,’ so I am hopeful that he will finally make a good faith effort to get going here in order to restart funding for the FAA, help the thousands of workers around the country who are going without a paycheck, and keep vital airport renovation projects moving forward,” Rockefeller said.