Govt. Shutdown Highlights Aviation Safety Requirements

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Furlough of FAA aviation safety inspectors and NTSB accident investigators may put the country in default of its obligations under an aviation treaty that sets standards for safety for ICAO, former FAA lawyer Loretta Alkalay told Forbes magazine this week. The U.S. failure to approve a federal budget and subsequent partial government shutdown has furloughed some 3,000 FAA safety inspectors and stalled NTSB investigations. Alkalay told Forbes that the inspectors perform oversight and surveillance required under the Chicago Convention treaty. "It's hard to imagine that the FAA can meet its ICAO obligations without 3,000 inspectors," Alkalay told the magazine. And violation of the treaty could have consequences for U.S. airlines. 

The Chicago Convention sets standards for aviation safety among some 192 participating states of ICAO. For the U.S., the treaty requires that the country maintain a system that ensures aircraft operating over its borders (and U.S. aircraft flying abroad) comply with safety regulations. Countries participating in the treaty must ensure the same capabilities. The U.S. has in the past used the treaty to audit aviation authorities of other countries and has limited access to the U.S. for those countries that fail to meet minimum standards. Theoretically, foreign countries could now audit the U.S. system and find it out of compliance with safety obligations defined by the treaty and (at least) seek to impose restrictions on the movement of U.S. aircraft flying abroad.