Guest Blog: Shutdown Hits Flight Training

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As AVweb has been reporting, the partial government shutdown has impacted aviation at a number a levels, from aircraft registration to aircraft safety inspection. But the effect on the provision on airman FAA knowledge tests is more critical than many realize.

Along with the shutdown of the knowledge test process, the provision of FAA airman practical tests are additionally affected in some important ways. While FAA Designated Pilot Examiners (DPEs) havenít been told to stop offering their services, the system they use to process applications for pilots seeking ratings or certificates is government run and if anything breaks, itís possible that no one will be there to fix it.

Currently, it is currently up and runningófor now. †For authorized practical tests, should the system fail, examiners, instructors, and applicants could go back to paper applications, but these--along with those being submitted digitally--are going to pile up during any time the FAA staff is furloughed.

Itís reasonable to think that even when FAA staff is able to return from furlough, which we hope is soon, the applications that have been submitted in the interim will be delayed in processing. The potential for expiration of temporary airman certificates issued (which only last 120 days) may lead to added workload for local FAA offices needing to re-issue temporary certificates that have expired. If an airman lets a certificate expire, he or she will no longer have a valid pilot certificate.

Any processing of practical tests that require FAA staff to be present will be halted during this shutdown. The most pronounced result of this is the initial flight instructor test. These tests are typically either administered directly by FAA staff or are deferred by FAA staff to appropriately qualified FAA DPEs if FAA staff arenít available. Even when deferred, FAA staff must interact with the applicant to assign the test. If FAA staff arenít in the office, this is not possible, effectively stopping the flow of any new CFI applicants.

Circling back to the knowledge test issue, in the short run, the effect will be limited for those that have already completed knowledge tests. In the longer term, if tests arenít administered, this will stop all processing of pilot applicants for ratings or certificates. This will effectively stop any training providers, including local FBOs, colleges and universities, or even airlines from moving pilot candidates through ratings and certificates.

For pilot candidates in collegiate or university aviation programs, this may halt their progress through expensive academic programs. When these programs are unable to move pilots through the system, not only will government staff be out of work, but all of the civilian DPEs that provide these tests will have effectively been laid off and no longer able to work.

If the shutdown continues without relief, or the FAA staff that oversee these activities arenít fully reinstated and allowed to return to work, it will stop pilot training in the U.S. eventually, even if this doesnít happen all at once. With concerns about pilot shortages growing more urgent each year, the shutdown is a significant worry for the industry, if it isnít ended soon.† It has the potential to affect the transportation infrastructure's ability to provide qualified pilots. And this wonít necessarily take months to notice. Pilot training facilities are already hitting the roadblock of knowledge tests and this is likely to grow worse by the day.

Jason Blair is a designated pilot examiner and former director of the National Flight Instructors Association.

Join the conversation. †Read others' comments and add your own.

Comments (6)

OMG the sky IS falling.

Posted by: Gordon Mano | October 9, 2013 9:16 AM    Report this comment

GA would be better off without the FAA and their regs. Good riddance.

Posted by: Andre Abreu | October 9, 2013 11:20 AM    Report this comment

They should discontinue the third class medical and just go to the sport pilot model for all private, non commercial flying, to save money.

They have about $54 million being spent on that. Clearly none of that has any impact on safety. or all the sport pilots would be dead from pilot incapacitation problems. That has not happened at all.

That money would then be available for FAA operations, the essential ones. Not the complete and total waste the FAA has going on.

There, now I have completely hijacked the thread. Heh.

Posted by: Steve Waechter | October 9, 2013 11:28 AM    Report this comment

I wonder if the FAA functions could be replaced with an app? Seems like a possibility; I didn't see anything in there that would require more than a system administrator.

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | October 9, 2013 6:49 PM    Report this comment

Thanks Jason, good article.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | October 9, 2013 8:41 PM    Report this comment

Just wait; now that you have pointed out that part of the DPE system is still running, they will be quick to shut that down too in order to inflict maximum pain.

If they can go out of their way to stick it to WW2 vets, surely those rich airplane pilots deserve it too.

Posted by: A Richie | October 10, 2013 8:41 AM    Report this comment

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