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Shutdown reveals significance of little-known FAA office

Colleen Mondor

Like many others in the aviation industry, the government shutdown is hitting me hard due to the closure of a very small and (relatively) obscure department of the Federal Aviation Administration: the Office of Aircraft Registry.

My husband and I have owned and operated Moro Aircraft Leasing, Inc. for nearly 15 years. We purchase, sell and lease aircraft to commercial operators primarily in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. This month we were scheduled to finalize a deal that was nearly a year in the making for an air ambulance operator in Oregon. Then came the shutdown and now like a lot of other companies we find our business on hold.

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) is currently showing a substantial impact to their membership due to the shutdown. In a statement posted to the Aviation Today website, GAMA vice president of operations Jens Hennig explains, “With the FAA Aircraft Registry office closed, more than 150 newly manufactured aircraft worth more than $1.9 billion will be delayed by mid-October. Our message to the nation’s political leaders is clear: End the shutdown now."

The Office of Aircraft Registry is responsible for conducting title searches, registering liens and assigning N-numbers. Without their personnel on the job, the delivery of newly manufactured aircraft is now delayed as are aircraft such as our own, which are currently registered in countries other than the U.S. and thus require new N-numbers. (These aircraft can’t be transferred with temporary registrations or so-called "pink slips" but require acceptance of fly-wires by the FAA.)

The delay in our purchase has had a serious domino effect, impacting not only Moro Aircraft Leasing and the seller, but also our customer, his employees and his customers as well. There are also multiple banks and title agencies involved in these types of sales, every one of which is now on hold awaiting documents from the FAA. The problems created by the closure of this office are of growing concern in Alaska and may more directly affect commercial passengers as well, as Era Alaska revealed in a statement last week.

In all of our years in aviation, my husband and I have never witnessed anything like the impact of the shutdown. Through the many weather, mechanical and operational delays he witnessed during 15,000 hours of commercial flying in Alaska (which originated with MarkAir Express and included the airspace closures after 9/11) there has never been a time when business itself was not allowed to function.

While industry leaders pursue attempts to have the Office of Aircraft Registry designation changed from “nonessential” to “essential,” as it was during the 1995-96 shutdown, we applaud their efforts and have contacted Alaska’s Congressional delegation repeatedly in recent days, urging it be reopened.

However if one thing is clear from the events of the last two weeks, it is that no matter how inconsequential the impact of a government agency or office may appear, the far-reaching effects of their closure are often wider than the nonflying public realizes.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association provides a detailed look at many aspects of the shutdown in this recent article.

Colleen Mondor, a former Fairbanks-area air taxi dispatcher, is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska.” She holds degrees in aviation, history and northern studies; her graduate work on pilot error accidents in Alaska is cited in NTSB reports and studies.