The agency said it anticipates 2,200 inspectors and engineers will return to work by Jan. 18. Overall plans call for recalling 3,113 people employed by FAA’s Aviation Safety Organization, but a breakdown of affected positions was not available.
“We are recalling inspectors and engineers to perform duties to ensure continuous operational safety of the entire national airspace,” an FAA spokesperson said. “We proactively conduct risk assessment, and we have determined that after three weeks it is appropriate to recall inspectors and engineers.”
The shutdown of multiple federal agencies began Dec. 22 because of an impasse between President Donald Trump and Congress over the $5.7 billion funds Trump wants Congress to authorize to construct a security wall on the US-Mexico border.
A lawsuit filed by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) against the government states that funds appropriated for FAA were exhausted on Dec. 24. Thereafter, “excepted” employees, including controllers, were required to continue working without pay; other employees were furloughed without pay.
During a furlough, “the term ‘excepted’ is used to refer to employees who are funded through annual appropriations who are nonetheless excepted from the furlough because they are performing work that, by law, may continue to be performed during a lapse in appropriations,” according to the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM). “Excepted employees include employees who are performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property or performing certain other types of excepted work.”
Agency legal counsels, working with senior managers, determine who is excepted, according to OPM.
On Jan. 11, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) released guidance for “operations during a lapse in annual appropriations” of its constituent agencies. The document lists 44,687 FAA employees who are either excepted, otherwise funded and working, or furloughed—by far the majority of 53,923 people affected across 11 DOT agencies and offices.
According to the document, there are 30,743 total FAA staff at work and 13,944 employees furloughed during the shutdown.
Of the 27,680 “life and safety” excepted staff at work, 24,456 are employed by the Air Traffic Organization, which manages the nation’s air traffic control (ATC) system. That number represents about 80% of the total agency staff at work.
Other FAA excepted personnel include the 3,113 people recalled by the Aviation Safety Organization, employees working for the Office of Security and Hazardous Materials (58) and other departments (53).
Among operations that will continue as excepted activities during the shutdown are ATC services, maintenance and operation of navigational aids, flight standards field inspections, ATC specialist medical clearances, airmen medical certifications, issuance of waivers for unmanned aircraft flights supporting safety and security operations, commercial space launch oversight, and licensing and operation of the FAA’s aircraft registry, according to the DOT document.
Among suspended activities are “development of new ATC specialists not certified to work a position,” a reference to the closure of the FAA’s ATC academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and furloughed controller trainees.