Eight Questions on the FAA Shutdown, Answered

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(Photo (cc) by Flickr user Liber)

Here at TN we've been covering the FAA shutdown extensively. You can catch up on our detailed reporting by clicking on the the links throughout this post. Or, scroll down for our recap of all the basic issues summarized in eight straightforward questions.

Wait, air traffic controllers aren’t working?

Air traffic controllers are still on the job, and no safety functions have been halted.  But that doesn’t mean air traffic controllers aren’t feeling the effects of the partial shutdown. Example:  the break room at New York LaGuardia’s airport is being rehabbed, and that work has ground to a halt. So the workers are “resting” in an office.

So, what else does the FAA do? Do we even need the FAA?

The FAA oversees construction projects at airports, collects taxes on airline tickets, and inspects airports.  It also develops new technology and ensures airports can accommodate new airplane models. None of the workers who do these things are collecting paychecks.

Rewind that tape.  Airports aren’t being inspected?

Airports are being inspected, because that work is considered critical to “life and property.”  But the 40 inspectors aren’t getting paid, and are responsible for their own government credit card bills, which, yes, include airplane tickets to airports around the country.

How many other workers are affected?

The US DOT says 4,000 workers have been furloughed, and that some 70,000 construction workers have been idled.

Will those workers eventually be paid?

For the federal workers, it would take an act of Congress. For the construction workers, that depends on their union.

So I’m saving money, now right?  Because I don’t have to pay taxes?

Nope.  Almost all the airlines have raised their ticket prices to make up the difference.    Meanwhile, the federal government is losing $30 million a day – an estimated $1 billion before this is settled.

Okay, now I’m interested.  Why did Congress shut down the FAA?

The FAA hasn’t actually been granted long-term funding since 2007.  Instead, Congress has voted 20 times to extend funding for the agency on a short-term basis, while a larger funding bill is hammered out.

Usually, that has meant just keeping everything as is.  But this time, the Republican-controlled House inserted a provision to eliminate subsidies for some rural airports in their extension. But the Democrats in the Senate wouldn’t agree to that, because they felt they would lose their leverage in another dispute, over how easy it should be for airline workers to unionize.   The House left for vacation without negotiating, and the Senate said: No dice.

By the way.  The total savings from the House-backed cut in rural air subsidies would have been $16 million, or about what the Treasury loses every 12 hours the FAA is shutdown.

When will all this be resolved?

President Obama says he wants it resolved by week’s end.  But it could stay unsettled until Congress returns to Washington.  Sometime after Labor Day.