Shutdown Shutters Many U.S. Aviation Safety Activities

 - January 22, 2019, 12:05 PM

With the partial U.S. government shutdown now in its fifth week, key safety activities such as the release of most Airworthiness Directives (ADs) remain on hold. In fact, the FAA has issued only one new AD this year, involving high-thrust settings of the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines on the Boeing 787-8. That AD was released on Friday as an interim action ahead of the comment period because the FAA determined that the risk justified the immediate action.

Under the DOT guidance plans for the government shutdown, safety workforce at the FAA would be “limited to safety critical staff whose job is to perform urgent continued operational activity to protect life and property.” As such, the agency is working operational safety issues to determine whether urgent safety action is necessary, such as the release of emergency ADs. All other ADs, however, have stopped. By this time last year, the agency had already issued some 25 ADs and proposed nearly a dozen more.

ADs are only one safety area on hold. The Aviation Safety Action Program—which provides a mechanism for voluntary reporting and mitigating safety issues in a non-threatening” environment—has stalled from the agency’s furlough, backlogging event review committee (ERC) meetings and putting new memorandums of understanding (MoUs) on hold. Bryan Burns, president of the Air Charter Safety Foundation, noted that in the ACSF-administered ASAP program, eight ERC meetings in January have been postponed, while a handful of MoUs that establish the programs with operators remain pending.

Further, the National Transportation Safety Board has quieted for the most part. One CBS report suggested that nearly 75 ongoing investigations—crossing all modes—have been put on hold. NTSB, however, could launch a major investigation or continue investigatory work involving imminent safety ramifications.