Closed for the season: how to navigate the partial government shutdown

3 min read

While the initial government shutdown has ended and most services restored, another shutdown looms and the following article will help you navigate the affected agencies. Meanwhile, you may still experience some service delays due to backlogs which are addressed by author, Charlie Masters. – Ed.


Unless you have been living secluded in a Tibetan Monastery or trekking the Appalachian Trail for the last month you likely have heard about the partial government shutdown as Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on the amount (or type) of border security needed.  Much of our government runs on “auto-fund” providing those goods and services we call entitlements. But about 1/3 of the spending needs to be authorized by 12 different appropriations bills.

As of this writing only five have been passed by the House, Senate and signed into law by the President.  Of those remaining seven,  one funds the group of Federal Agencies in the Department of Transportation including the FAA – the agency that certifies our airplanes, medicals, issues our pilot certificates, provides air traffic control, ensures our compliance with the regulations, and provides many other ancillary services.  Though not funded, some of these are deemed to be essential services and continue, while others are non-essential and are currently closed and their workers furloughed.

Since even the essential tasks remain unfunded, the required workforce still on the job are not receiving their paychecks.  Only in America.  The purpose of this article is to provide information on which parts of the FAA are working, which are not, and suggestions to deal with both.

Air Traffic Control

Air Traffic Controllers are on the job directing and separating traffic just like any other day.  I thought about reminding my fellow pilots to be especially nice to controllers during the shutdown, but my mother would want me to be courteous to those folks (and everyone else) all the time so do remember:

  1. We need these people in more congested airspace.
  2. They are probably under some financial stress so cut them some slack if they seem irritated.
  3. They may be operating on a reduced staff so help them do their jobs efficiently by using correct phraseology, keep your transmissions concise and be prepared to copy their instructions so they will not have to be repeated.

Airmen’s Certification

The good news here is the knowledge testing centers, Designated Pilot Examiners (DPEs) and Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs) are independent and not employees of the FAA.  Written tests are still being administered, practical exams are still being conducted, and routine medicals are available.  It appears the Aeromedical Branch has been deemed non-essential at this time and special issuance Medicals may not be available.

If you have any questions, contact your DPE or AME in regards to your specific circumstance.  An additional caveat is that a Temporary Airman Certificate is valid for 120 days.  If your temporary certificate is about to expire, you may be able to get a new one issued by a DPE.

Flight Service

Since 2016 Flight Service Stations in the United States (except Alaska) have been under contract for operation with Leidos.  As of this writing, briefings, flight plan filing, pilot reports and flight watch are still being conducted.

Flight Standards District Offices

Quite likely your local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) is closed.  Some of the safety inspectors deemed essential are still working but now would be a bad time to lose your pilot’s license, an airworthiness certificate or schedule a certificate reinstatement examination.

Be Patient, Be Understanding, Be Nice

Although the FAA, along with the rest of the Department of Transportation, is officially shut down, you might notice you still see trains and trucks rolling, barges floating, and aircraft flying.  Some services, however, have been sharply curtailed.  This is a good time to plan ahead and an unfortunate time to get an Airworthiness Certificate for that RV12 you have been building for the past seven years.  Eventually the political logjam will break but meanwhile be patient as the inevitable backlogs are worked through. Be understanding to those folks who are currently working with reduced staffing and without pay.  And be nice – to everyone.