When I drove past the control tower on the way to my T-hangar on Tuesday morning the parking lot was full and the tower’s lights were on. It was Tuesday, October 1, the first day of the federal government shutdown.
The controllers were all there, as promised. FSS—though I use online weather and flight plan filing—was answering the phone. ATIS was up and broadcasting, and ground control answered immediately when I called for a clearance.
The frequency for my flight over to Oshkosh seemed even quieter than usual. For many minutes nobody talked on the Milwaukee approach frequency that extends out to the middle of Lake Michigan and almost to Oshkosh. But that may have just been a slow Tuesday and had nothing to do with the dysfunction in Washington hundreds of miles back to the east.
Maybe the FAA, or at least the part we in private aviation deal with, had escaped the impact of failure to fund the government. Air traffic controllers have been declared to be essential so they continue to work and get paid. So far the contractor that operates FSS is still providing weather briefings and accepting flight plans. But the rest of the FAA is in disarray, at least.
When I checked my email the FAA Safety Team (FAAST) notified me that seminars and safety events and services will probably be canceled with little or no notice. Sounds like any FAA Wings credits you earned are now on hold. And don’t expect any safety notices from FAAST until the government is running again.
As far as I know you can take a check ride for a new certificate or rating today and the designated examiner could give you the standard temporary license if you pass. The temporary should be good for 120 days as normal, and then you need the permanent certificate issued by the FAA’s records and certification branch in Oklahoma City. But there aren’t many FAA people working in Oak City so your temporary won’t advance toward a permanent certificate. Before the shutdown Oak City posted that it was working on temporary certificates issued on July 25 so you can see they were already operating in arrears. Will 120 days be enough?
You could also buy an airplane today and copies the bill of sale and registration application would still allow you to fly it as usual. But how long will permanent registration take? Nobody knows because the people who do that are non “essential” and are not working.
Now that all aircraft registrations have an expiration date what happens if your registration expires during the shutdown? Will it be legal to continue flying? Will there be anyone there to enter into the system that your N-number is no longer registered and valid?
If you have an application for a special issuance medical certificate pending you could face a long delay because the staff who issue those is in limbo. The FAA says medical certification is still operating, but I have heard of pilots who can’t get answers. The FAA’s online MedXPress system that we must use to apply for a medical certificate seems to still be working. But are the computer guys there to keep it operating? If it goes down can we get a new medical certificate even though the AME is available for the exam?
FAA designated representatives inspect and approve all sorts of activity, including issuing an experimental amateur-build airworthiness certificate. The designees continue to work because they are paid by the applicant, not the FAA, but when will the designee’s approval be processed into a permanent certificate from the FAA?
You have noticed many sentences ending with a question mark because I don’t have answers. And I don’t believe anybody knows for sure what will happen. This is, as they say, uncharted water.
If the government shutdown lasts only a few days these questions won’t matter to most of us, except for manufacturers who need certification to deliver an airplane or a part, or for pilots waiting for special medical certificate while the clock runs out on the current medical. And a bunch of other people involved in all levels of aviation that I am forgetting.
But if the shutdown drags on many of us may find out we can’t get the FAA “services” the law requires. The shutdown sent the non-essential FAA people home, but didn’t change the rules requiring us to get the approvals those non-essential people issue.
So if you aren’t facing any paperwork deadlines the part of the FAA that we touch and feel on any flight such as ATC and FSS is working normally. But for everything else the FAA does, and requires, who knows? What a crazy situation.