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If Government Shuts Down, Will Business Aviation Be Affected?

April 7, 2011

Hear an interview with Steve Brown in a special edition of NBAA Flight Plan.

As the clock ticks in Washington toward a possible government shutdown, the question being asked in business aviation is the same one being raised by all citizens: Could a curtailment of government services affect the industry?

NBAA Senior Vice President for Operations and Administration Steve Brown has the answer – after all, he’s been in this situation before. From 1998 until joining NBAA in 2004, Brown was FAA Associate Administrator for Air Traffic Services. He managed the nation’s 35,000 air traffic controllers, technicians, inspector pilots and administrative personnel.

“The key point for any pilot to keep in mind is that, while some government workers who are more administrative in their jobs every day would not be coming to work during a government shutdown, there are many employees who are considered essential,” Brown said. “They would come to work.”

Specifically, Brown mentioned air traffic controllers, weather forecasters and others in the Air Traffic Control Command Centers – all of whom, he said, will report to work in the event of a government shutdown.

Brown said he helped the FAA plan for shutdowns on two occasions during his six-year tenure as associate administrator. In both cases, lawmakers reached agreement on budget issues in time to avert that outcome.

“It’s been well thought out,” he offered, speaking of the FAA’s plan for coping in the event government comes grinding to a halt. “People who control air traffic, process flight plans and are involved in weather decision-making…all those are part of what’s considered the air traffic control management function. All of that should proceed as normal.”

Brown cautioned, however, that many non-critical functions of the FAA would be suspended until a budget deal is reached on Capitol Hill and approved by the president.

“There would be changes,” he noted. “People at FAA who are involved in more administrative tasks – for example, reviewing and approving airport grants – would not be working during a government shutdown. Workers considering changes to existing procedures on a long-term basis, maybe in Flight Standards or in other parts of the FAA would not necessarily come to work because they’re not involved in essential safety services on a real time basis.”

The White House estimates about 800,000 government workers would be idled by a government-wide shutdown. That could curtail some non-flight functions critical to business operations.

“Somebody in a flight department who might be seeking approval for a change in an operating condition,” such as an RVSM approval, would “likely have to wait until the shutdown came to an end before being able to obtain that approval,” Brown said. The same would be true for a flight operator seeking approval for a minimum equipment list or the installation of aircraft hardware requiring an FAA inspector’s sign-off.

Flight and avionics manufacturers would likely be able to continue operations relatively unimpeded for a time, Brown said, given that many are capable of some degree of self- regulation as designated by the FAA.

Hear an interview with Steve Brown in a special edition of NBAA Flight Plan.