When Airworthiness Became Non-essential

DOT's plan, published last Friday, seems pretty clear: FAA flight standards field inspections would continue under a government shutdown. But then some 3,000 aviation safety inspectors--the ones who actually do those inspections--got word Monday that they're considered non-essential, and shouldn't bother reporting to work.

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That pretty much sums up how things are going in Washington these days. Nobody's really sure what's happening, and what is confirmed as bona fide doesn't make a whole lot of sense from a practical perspective.

As far as the FAA shutdown goes, here's a partial list of what we know isn't happening, at least according to PASS, which represents the ASIs and about 8,000 other FAA and DoD staffers (and has a lot more to say publicly than FAA):

* Inspections at repair stations, on ramps, and in cockpits
* Issuance/renewal of certificates
* Oversight of FAA designees
* Issuance of new aircraft registrations
* Tests, including flight checks, of navigational aids
* Updating/publishing of aeronautical charts.
* Review/approval of product type certificates.
On the oversight front, that's about 70 active Part 121 carriers, another dozen or so split Part 121/135s, and nearly 4,800 repair stations that are not being inspected. While this will hardly lead to catastrophe (thank goodness for those proactive safety management systems, eh?), neither is it a stellar example to set, either for the industry or the traveling public.

Not for nothing, ASIs were deemed essential in April 2011, when a shutdown was averted with a deadline-day deal. In the 1995-96 shutdown, a few very green inspectors were furloughed, but the vast majority reported for duty.

Here's FAA's statement on the ASI situation:
The FAA's Aviation Safety Organization, a department of approximately 7,000 nationwide, will have a staff of 310 in place during the initial days of the government shutdown, including managers in all field offices who will monitor the system and call back employees as necessary. If the furlough extends longer than a few days, we will begin to recall as many as 2,500 employees back to work incrementally, including safety inspectors, engineers and technical support staff, depending on need.

Dare one ask how the need for active airline and repair station oversight is demonstrated?

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