U.S. Government Shutdown Spotlights FAA Registry Vulnerability

As Congress worked to reach an agreement to end the recent United States government shutdown, the lack of protections for the U.S. aircraft registry once again became a major concern for the general aviation industry.

As the shutdown was about to begin, the U.S. Department of Transportation released a lengthy list of Federal Aviation Administration activities and personnel that would be affected, including the aircraft registry, aviation rulemaking, NextGen activities, airman certificate issuance, and approvals of unmanned aircraft systems. In all, the Department of Transportation said, 17,859 of the FAA’s 45,668 employees were on the furlough list. Those not furloughed are involved in safety-sensitive positions, such as aviation inspectors and air traffic controllers.

On Sunday, six general aviation groups wrote the DOT, urging that the agency reopen the registry, which, the groups argued, performs essential safety and security functions, in line with international aviation treaties. “DOT has authority under the Anti-deficiency Act to staff the U.S. registry as it is vital to protection of human life and property, and necessary for the U.S. to fulfill its ongoing international legal obligations,” the associations said.

The groups stressed that the decision to close the registry during the last shutdown, in 2013, had a profound effect on the industry, disrupting hundreds of aircraft transactions valued at more than $1.9 billion. As pressure mounted, FAA officials were believed to be exploring possibilities for reopening the registry, but that did not appear to be necessary in light of the short-term agreement on Capitol Hill.