As Congress worked to reach an agreement to end the government shutdown that began on Saturday, the lack of protections for the U.S. aircraft registry once again becomes a major concern for the general aviation industry. The Senate earlier today agreed 81-18 to cut off debate on a short-term bill that would fund the government through February 8, paving the way for the bill's consideration in the chamber. House leaders indicated they would be wiling to vote on a shorter-term package. If passed, that would end the shutdown—at least for now. But the funding dispute on Capitol Hill highlighted that the aircraft registry remains vulnerable to a government shutdown.
As the shutdown was about to set in, the U.S. Department of Transportation released a lengthy list of FAA 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 DOT 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 or air traffic controllers
Six general aviation groups—GAMA, NATA, NBAA, AOPA, EAA, and HAI—yesterday 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.