Monday, July 25, 2011

What You Need To Know About the Current FAA Shut Down

Who will be manning the control tower next month? (Photo by J Murphy)
The latest fallout of the ongoing battle between the Democratic and Republican parties has been the shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration late Friday.

Don't worry, no planes are going to fall out of the sky as a result. Air traffic controllers are considered essential staff and will stay at their posts. A trust fund, currently balanced (but not for long!) will pay their salaries.

But all non-essential staff have been furloughed (which will make it harder for the air traffic controllers to do their jobs, one would assume).

More worryingly the agency is not currently collecting taxes and losing approximately $30 million a DAY. So how it will pay these stalwart Air Traffic controllers in the future is an open question and one that will be made more difficult to solve every day that Congress dithers on extending the FAA's mandate.

In the meantime, greed has won out where many of the major airlines are concerned, with most carriers quietly raising prices over the weekend. Click on to American, Delta, United, Southwest, US Airways, Continental or Air Trans site and you'll see fares that look near identical to those that appeared early in the day on Friday, though they should be significantly lower without taxes. It seems these airlines will simply be pocketing the money that used to go to the government, an average of $25 FAA taxes on a $300 fare, according to the Associated Press.

Its unclear what Virgin American and JetBlue are doing; both had originally said they'd give their passengers a tax holiday (and in JetBlue's case even refund taxes collected) though the industry website Airline Reporter, which is posting a running commentary on changing airline policies, now says the strategy may have changed with these two airlines.  

We should heap praise on Spirit Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Alaskan Airlines all of which have lowered the fares one will find on their sites to reflect the lack of the FAA tax. If you're planning on flying any of the routes these carriers service, book now to get a lowered, tax-free rate.

Why have the two sides been unable to reach a deal on the existence of an agency that everyone agrees is key to flyer safety? Shamefully, the authorization bill is being used as a means for union busting. Certain congresspeople have added provisions denying the right of collective bargaining to airline and railway workers to the FAA reauthorization bill, and that highly political, unnecessary move has led to this unfortunate situation.

Alas, nobody thinks about the FAA until a plane crashes. So there hasn't been any public outcry over its shuttering. But beyond air traffic control (obviously a vital function), the agency was working on necessary modernization projects at airports across the country, all of which are now stalled. At one New York City airport, sightlines were being improved so that controllers could actually see the planes as they landed and taxied. As a New Yorker, I'm not too pleased that project is being delayed.

For the details on who the major players are in this battle, click here.

I'd urge everyone to write their congressperson and senator TODAY. Let them know their constituents are paying attention and don't approve of this sort of backroom union busting, especially when public safety is at stake.


  1. Most travellers who don’t use their airline ticket do not realise that they are entitled to a FULL Air Passenger Duty Refund of Government taxes and surcharges. The tax on your ticket is ONLY paid to the Government when you actually board the plane and fly. But airlines are making millions by NOT refunding these taxes to you if you don’t take your flight for whatever reason.

    1. Why they are about to close the FAA? thats ridiculous!