Flying Through the Government Shutdown

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.

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26 Responses to Flying Through the Government Shutdown

  1. Jeff Welch says:

    Just when general aviation seemed to be on the mend…….good grief……..

  2. Bill Berson says:

    Why are controllers declared essential today (and fully funded) but not fully funded last July during Airventure?

    On a related note, I was reading Paul Poberezny’s column from when controllers went on strike during the 1981 Oshkosh Fly-in. It was interesting because the show went on as usual with just 20 replacement controllers (instead of the usual 70 or so).
    Keep this in mind when negotiating for controller needs at Airventure 2014.

    • Randy says:

      Controllers were funded up until October 1. We are working on the promise of back pay when funding is reinstated.

  3. brett hawkins says:

    Nice and timely summary. Thanks, Mac.

    I am sure the Koch brothers and other $$$ sponsors of the Tea Party crazies in Congress have plenty of spare jets and ATPs to fly them, so any reg/cert expiration problems can be ignored.

    The rest of us can simply take one for the team. The “team” being those enlightened Americans who are trying to erase the last century of social progress.

    • Thomas Boyle says:


      Those “enlightened Americans” are in danger of erasing several millennia of social progress, from the dawn of the merchant classes (the start of the Renaissance) onward, and taking us back to the Fall of the Roman Empire (an entitled political class that ignores the law, that holds on to power with ever more unaffordable bread-and-circuses policies, and an imploding economic base).

      The Dark Ages, by all accounts, were no fun.

      Here’s hoping the Tea Party lives long, and prospers. Without it, America may not.

      • Thomas Boyle says:

        Argh – I mis-read Brett’s post. I meant to say that the “rest of us” are in danger of erasing, not that the “enlightened Americans” are.

        Need to get my coffee, and more sleep.

  4. Kayak Jack says:

    With any luck, the executive branch will wither away.

  5. Carter Boswell says:

    In Reply to Bretts comment regarding T-Parties crazies, I’m glad someone is trying to stop the out of control spending in Washington. As citizens we have no idea how much money is wasted by the Federal Government. The T party wants to stop the bureaucratic “crazies” from abusing the taxpayer. So in reality Mr Brett, the very folks you criticize are trying to help you.

    The GAO talks about billions of dollars in Fraud, waste and duplication in all the “Social Programs” you mention that are somehow being “taken away.” I haven’t seen a reduction of Social Security Disability Fraud, a program all Americans should demand to be totally overhauled. If you don’t know about this you should.
    You don’t mention that our National debt is one we can’t repay, in addition you don’t offer up any solutions to this out of control spending. So, shutting down this huge government is turning out to be a good thing. All the TV networks are talking about it and we are finding out some facts the Feds don’t want to acknowledge. Lets find out exactly what parts of the government we don’t need. Lets eliminate that which makes us financially weaker. In the end we will be stronger.

    Now as the different buracrazies figure out how to reduce the budgets for their depts we will finally get a smaller govt. which will hopefully prevent Obama from asking for another tax incrrrrreeeeasssseee. I understand he wants one now.

    Now we are adding another burden on the taxpayer, Obamacare. However I like the fact that many of the newly insured will have to pay for their healthcare, something they didn’t have to do before. The only drawback is that many of them will be subsidized.

    I’m sure the folks that build, maintain and fly executive jets appreciate you executive jet comments. Once again you fail to appreciate how many of those jets are built in America and then exported to countries all over the world. The American jobs associated with these jets, the productivity multipliers the list goes on and on. Again, I ask you how you would replace those high paying jobs and the foreign exchange that comes into the US? Oh I almost forgot, you didn’t complain when Nancy Pelosi flew a B-757 every week from DC to SFO to go home to see the family. Talk about abuse!

    So Obama is going to go play golf. Nothing changes

    • John says:

      Agreed. And Mac, your questions around FAAST, special issuances, registration renewal, part certification etc just go to show the government’s way too BIG and has their hands in too many activities. Downsizing the federal government or breaking the country up are the only two longer term solutions. Our populations and philosophies are too diverse to continue this way.

      • Thomas Boyle says:

        Exactly right. As the government is now acknowledging that FAA’s interference in private aviation is non-essential, then why should it ever get to interfere at all?

        Medical certification – if it’s non-essential, just stop requiring it altogether. Permanently.

        Aircraft certification – non-essential, just stop requiring it altogether. Permanently. (Continue to offer it on a non-required, commercial basis, if there’s market demand, by all means.)

        Airman certification – non-essential… (insurance companies and private agencies can handle this – it’s not hard)

        Well, you guys get the idea.

        The FAA has been a nuisance for too long. The government has acknowledged that much of what it does is non-essential.

        It needs to be limited to what IS essential. As for its involvement in private aviation, mostly it isn’t essential, and it needs to go.

    • brett hawkins says:

      Ouch Carter! Dont’ have enough ink in my keyboard to respond to all your comments so I won’t try.

      My comment about the rich and their jets was supposed to be a joke, just like when Congress quickly restored funding for ATC when it found out that reduced tower staffing might delay the members’ personal travel plans.

      I gotta get back on point or Mac will start deleting my posts!

  6. Alex Wilcox says:

    The government shut down affects not only government agencies and employees, but small businesses in the midst of growth.  Take JetSuite, the nations’s fastest private jet charter company based in Irvine, California.  Because of the shutdown, delivery of 3 already purchased aircraft are delayed (staff needed for final ops spec signature at FAA is unavailable). Therefore… 
    15 pilot jobs (5 per aircraft is JetSuite’s standard) will not be created this year
    3 mechanic jobs (1 per aircraft is JetSuite’s standard) will not be created this year
    $1.5 million ($500k per aircraft) will not be spent repainting each aircraft in Arkansas and upgrading avionics and cabin in Kansas.
    $360k ($24k per pilot) will not be spent on pilot training in New Jersey
    This shutdown – as it relates to ONE business – is stopping revenue throughout multiple states, and halting the creation of high-quality middle class jobs. Private jets employ dozens of hard working people for every “fat cat.” It is in fact one of the most efficient ways to distribute money from the 1% to the rest of us!

    Our leaders need to put the fsdo’s back in business.

    Alex Wilcox

  7. Jeff says:

    Most of the controllers are required to be at work. That does not mean we will be receiving are paychecks. That will happen after the govt. reopens. If you are furloughed you many not get reimbursed for your time off. It will need to be approved by a congress and then the president.

  8. Scott says:

    There is no doubt plenty of room to remove fat from the federal government. The problem is that every piece of fat has very vocal supporters. We all think the government should cut programs that benefit others, but if the government tries to cut a program that affects us we get upset. If we want to get out of this current spending/government mess we all need to be a little more empathetic and willing to sacrifice.

    The FAA does drive every one of us crazy at one time or another, but the answer is not to eliminate it. We need to focus on how to make it more efficient and how to promote reasonable safety. Along the way know that everyone thinks a little different so you are not going to get everything you want.

    If we work to make things better and more efficient we will end up with “better” and “more efficient”. If we just eliminate things we end up with nothing.

    • Thomas Boyle says:

      Efforts to “make government more efficient” suffer from 2 problems:
      1. They don’t work, and they never have (the incentives are to grow the empire’s budget, and efficiency shrinks it – and thus doesn’t happen)
      2. When government is doing things it shouldn’t even be doing, making it more efficient wouldn’t be the right answer, even if it were possible (see point 1).

      The FAA is doing a bunch of stuff it simply shouldn’t be doing, and it refuses to yield ground on even the most egregious nonsense (look at its response on the private medical).

      Where the FAA isn’t involved (e.g., Part 103) we have seen rapid, cost-effective innovation, with over 30 years now of safety similar to EAB. We have seen “good” and “efficient” instead of “defensive, expensive, burdensome bureaucracy”. The FAA is optional; it needs to realize it, and so do we.

  9. Matt says:

    Any discussion around this issue was always going to turn political, so here goes…

    Tea Partiers can bang on all they want about how these guys are “stopping the out of control spending in Washington”, but ultimately what they’re doing here is undermining democracy.

    The reality is, they lost and Obama won. He won *twice* having campaigned on healthcare reform and the Supreme Court endorsed the law as constitutional.

    Any fair minded person would say that when you lose, you accept it with good grace and go start preparing for the next election.

    You don’t hold a gun to the other guy’s head.

    It really is that simple.

  10. Isaiah W. Edwards says:

    Submitted paperwork for the initial CFI checkride during the last week of September. From what I’ve heard, our FSDO is empty save for a couple folks. Any similar experiences?

    Horrible timing on my part!

  11. Carter Boswell says:

    Hey Brett, sorry I jumped in your case. Matt, sorry but Obama didn’t win, except in garnering more votes. Barrycare is too costly. Alex, I’m sure your still planning on running your jet charter business. It will happen, just delayed a few weeks.
    In the big picture we are now beginning, just beginning to see, what parts of the Federal government we really need. Only with the shutdown are we able to see what parts of the Federal Government are really necessary. The sequester also did the same except it used the shotgun effect at reducing government. Bad parts and good parts of the gov took equal hits. I suggest that we have a five year plan, for the Fed Gov, that automatically shuts down or eliminates two percent of the Federal Government every five years. Kind of like a review of the Military installations that are eliminated. Same sort of process. Political, heck yes, but that’s a republic.

    Yes, some pain is currently being experienced but in the end we will all benefit. Maybe the LSA will be able to fly without a Medical.


  12. Stu Baxter says:

    It is apparent that most critisizing the “tea party” aims have not spent much if any time researching the goals of this group. Mostly everything that is wrong at the FAA is what’s wrong with most of government. If we don’t begin to fix government we shall be destined to a stagnant economy at best and government with their nose in every single part of our lives. If that’s what you want then go ahead and try to convince us that there is any logical reason why a government that can’t manage anything competently should be given further tasks.
    Logic tells us that the oposite is what we need at this time.

  13. Jason says:

    I don’t understand how they can be so far behind on issuing permanent certificates. The DMV can issue me a brand new plastic license on the spot. IACRA could have all but removed any people involved after the examiner and replaced them with an automatic print/mail system.

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