As the US government shutdown drags on the number of airline and airport projects at risk continues to grow. Roughly 18,000 FAA employees are furloughed, precluding various inspections and paperwork processing. While the impact of the furlough is broad it may be more acutely felt in some high-profile efforts with more significant exposure for the commercial airline market. Here are a few of those.
Delta Air Lines A220 induction
As the US launch customer of the type Delta Air Lines faces a number of extra FAA certification tasks associated with placing its A220 planes into service. Initial flights scheduled for 31 January 2019 are now at risk.
The carrier began the familiarization and proving runs in late 2018 and much of the work is complete but significant chunks remain. Most notably, the carrier must complete 100 hours of proving runs on the type. With four planes available that could happen relatively quickly, though the flights must also comply with crew rest and duty hour limits. And there is no guarantee that the FAA will allocate all the inspectors needed immediately once the funding impasse is resolved.
Paine Field Commercial Operations
Everything is in place for the launch of commercial operations at Paine Field in Everett, Washington. The two gates at the new terminal are ready for aircraft. Tickets for the inaugural flights are sold. Employees are being hired for the concessions. Alas, one set of paperwork remains unsigned and that could delay the festivities planned for 11 February 2019.
The airport requires an environmental impact statement to commence operations. A report was prepared and approved previously but that was based on operating a dozen daily flights. Between Alaska Airlines and United Airlines the airport is slated to see the number of operations double. The increase in flight frequencies means a new environmental approval and that requires a new sign-off. With the government currently closed those papers are going nowhere.
Southwest Airlines Hawaii Flights
The long awaited ETOPS certification required for Southwest Airlines to begin flights to Hawaii remains in limbo.
The airline continues to clear the regulatory hurdles but the calendar for service launch also continues to shift to the right. Even without the shutdown the airline missed its previous goal of selling seats or operating flights for the busy Christmas holiday season. The lack of FAA safety inspectors available to perform ride-along tests now also impairs the opportunity, similar to Delta’s challenges with the A220.
Other impacts, too
- Air traffic controllers and TSA agents continue to work without much hope of receiving their next paycheck. While they will almost certainly be paid for the hours worked eventually the very real impact of not receiving a paycheck when expected could devastate some of these families.
- Silver Airways is planning to induct its ATR 42-600 aircraft into service at some point, though exactly when that is planned remains unclear. The company took its first delivery in April 2018 and has been working to get the ATR into its fleet since then. Much like with the other new operations detailed above, FAA inspectors are required to complete that process. The carrier previously indicated that the planes would enter service in 2018 but missed that target.
- National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigations are also on hold as a result of furloughs. The NTSB cannot launch new investigations of deadly incidents nor can progress be made in ongoing investigations. Multiple incidents have occurred since the 22 December 2018 shutdown that typically would be subject to such investigations
It is worth noting that not all government employees are furloughed and some project approvals are trickling in. The TEXRail project linking DFW Airport to Fort Worth by train received its certification from the Federal Railroad Administration this week. That does give a glimmer of hope to the many other projects awaiting similar inspection sign-off.