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Midstate aviation inspectors furloughed in government shutdown

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NEW CUMBERLAND — The year Gary Martin, of Boiling Springs, began his job as an aviation safety inspector with the Federal Aviation Administration Harrisburg Flight Standards Division based at the Capital City Airport in New Cumberland, the federal government could not manage to avoid a shutdown.

In November 1995 and from December 1995 to January 1996, the federal government shutdown, furloughing thousands of workers considered “non-essential.”

At the time, Martin and his fellow aviation safety inspectors were not on that list.

It wasn’t until recently that the union representing the inspectors even realized that would not be the case this year.

The Associated Press reported Monday that nearly 3,000 aviation safety inspectors are being furloughed by the FAA as part of the government shutdown. Union officials initially thought the FAA had made a mistake when they received word of the furloughs, according to Kori Blalock Keller, a spokeswoman for Professional Aviation Safety Specialists. But that decision was confirmed Monday. Employees critical to public safety are generally exempt from the furloughs.

Mike Perrone, the union’s national president, told the Associated Press he is “outraged that the FAA would consider aviation safety inspectors as playing anything but a pivotal role in protecting the safety of the American public. Furloughing this critical workforce is neither in the best interest of the economy nor the oversight of this country’s aviation system.”

Martin is inclined to agree.

The eight inspectors at the New Cumberland office cover an area of Pennsylvania from the Maryland border to the New York border, he said.

“We are responsible for certification, renewal and the surveillance of pilots, mechanics, and companies that participate in aviation,” he said. “The Harrisburg office is responsible for oversight and compliance of several Emergency Helicopter and Air Ambulance operators, as well as Lycoming Aircraft Engines in Williamsport, the world’s largest producer of piston aircraft engines. None of these activities, as well as numerous others, are now monitored. Certification activities for new companies, pilots and mechanics have ceased, and individuals requiring certificate renewals will not be able to renew, which may affect their livelihoods as well.”

Martin said he and his co-workers largely deal with general aviation aircraft. However, he noted that local inspectors are sometimes called upon by the National Transportation Safety Board should an accident occur in the area. He said the board does not employ many field inspectors, so occasionally the inspection is delegated to the FAA.

“We do a number of things on a day-to-day basis that you can’t quantify,” he said.

FAA spokeswoman Kristie Greco told the Associated Press nearly 2,500 safety office personnel, including some inspectors, will be furloughed, though they may be called back to work incrementally over the next two weeks should the shutdown last that long.

Martin, however, said he is upset inspectors even made the “non-essential” list.

“During several earlier shutdowns, our contributions to aviation safety were considered ‘essential,’ and we continued our work through the shutdowns,” he said. “During this shutdown, we are not considered as essential as the White House calligraphers, so we are furloughed.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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