As of yesterday, the FAA is broke. Now it looks like the FAA leaders may not even have the money to come to Oshkosh. What a crazy system. The FAA has been operating on a long string of very short-term funding authorizations passed by Congress for the past few years. On last Friday night, the existing authorization expired and the FAA had no money to operate on Saturday morning. Here at Oshkosh the FAA seems to be functioning normally. The controllers were all in the normal spots on Saturday morning when I called to depart for Oshkosh. The controllers here at Oshkosh in their pink shirts were as busy as usual, but they were all here.
The reality is that all safety-related FAA operations continue even though there is no funding authorization from Congress. I don’t know how that money is approved, but it must be some automatic system. Thank god for whatever that system is because without it we would have no controllers, no flight service stations, and none of the FAA people who make it possible for the system to operate.
But what the refusal of Congress to fund the FAA does mean is that any and all non-safety-related operations are halted. There is no money to work on runways, continue development of new technology such as the ADS-B system, and no managers who are outside the direct safety-related work. About 4,000 people who work at the FAA are not directly involved enough in short-term safety to stay on the job. A new or improved runway delivers safety over the long term, but that doesn’t count.
Right now it looks like FAA managers, and maybe even the administrator, who visit AirVenture every year to gain a better understanding of what general aviation is all about, can’t come to Oshkosh. Like most aspects of government, the FAA shutdown is mostly theater. Congressmen on all sides are holding out for their favorite project, or to cut a project they don’t like, so nothing, including approving an FAA budget, gets done. It’s crazy.
Maybe the FAA funding feud will be resolved quickly and FAA people can have their normal involvement with AirVenture. But maybe not. I am afraid that Congress has found a loophole that lets it both shut down the FAA but keep the most time-critical functions operating. Last that I heard Congress had not even set the schedule to discuss new spending authorization for the FAA.