Senate Unable To End FAA Shutdown; Inspectors Working Without Pay

Around 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration staffers remain on unpaid furlough this morning and dozens of airport inspectors have been asked to continue working without pay while their employer loses out on millions of tax dollars it lacks authority to collect, after the Senate was unable to end the stalemate behind the FAA’s partial shutdown.

Speaking about those airport inspectors who have continued to work without pay, FAA administrator Randy Babbitt said, “The reason they are out on the job is because of the risk to operational safety or life and property… We can neither pay them nor can we compensate them for expenses. We are depending and living on their professionalism at this point.”

Being without income can be a costly enterprise for these inspectors, who each visit up to five airports every two weeks.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood tried to allay travelers’ concerns, pointing out that air traffic controllers continue to be paid.

“No safety issues will be compromised,” he said on Tuesday. “Flying is safe. Air traffic controllers are guiding airplanes. Safety inspectors are on duty and are doing their job. No one needs to worry about safety.”

What LaHood can’t downplay is the approximately $1 billion in tax revenues the FAA could miss out on if this shut down continues through the end of the month. With the House and Senate recessed until September, that possibility looms large.

After rubber-stamping 20 extensions of FAA authority over the last four years, the most recent bill ground to a halt earlier this summer over a number of issues, including federal subsidies for commercial air service to rural airports and a face-off over employees’ ability to organize labor unions.

From the NY Times:

Senate Democrats had hoped that they could quickly pass a temporary spending bill on Tuesday without the rural airport provision, and offer it to the House during the recess. While House members are gone, the House officially reconvenes every few days for a few minutes, a technical move meant to block recess appointments.

Senate Democrats maintained that the House, in one of those sessions, could adopt a clean spending bill by unanimous consent. But ultimately they were not able to gather the forces to pass a new bill.

As we reported yesterday, Delta Airlines and US Airways have decided to refund some of the federal tax money for travelers who booked tickets before the shutdown.

Stalemate in Senate Leaves 4,000 Out of Work at F.A.A. [NY Times]