U.S. government shutdown holds up FAA approval of aircraft, routes

by Reuters
Monday, 14 January 2019 21:35 GMT

(Adds FAA comment)

By Tracy Rucinski and Allison Lampert

Jan 14 (Reuters) - Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval of aircraft such as Boeing's MAX and new routes like Southwest Airline Co's Hawaii launch are on hold due to the U.S. government shutdown, delaying commercial operations.

A partial U.S. government shutdown over President Donald Trump's demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border entered its 24th day on Monday.

The FAA said it is constrained by law about what it can do during a shutdown and was allocating resources based on risk assessment to meet all safety-critical functions.

"Our focus is to maintain our system's high level of safety for existing operations and aircraft fleet," FAA spokesman Greg Martin said.

This means that U.S. airlines' ability to launch new routes and integrate newly delivered airplanes into their fleets and place them into service are affected, since each new aircraft must be signed off by local inspection offices.

Southwest Airlines said on Monday it had paused its plans to launch service to Hawaii because the FAA groups that oversee the route authorization process are on furlough.

Until it receives authorization, Dallas-based Southwest will not announce timelines for selling or operating flights to Hawaii, initially targeted for early this year, it said.

No. 1 U.S. carrier American Airlines Group Inc said it has taken delivery of two new MAX 8, but the planes are sitting idle, awaiting FAA approvals. American, with a fleet of around 950 aircraft, said it did not see any immediate impact from the delay.

A spokesman for United Airlines said the No. 3 U.S. carrier is waiting for FAA service to be restored so it can enter one 737 MAX 9 and one used Airbus A319 into service.

Europe's Airbus, which recently took over the Canadian-developed Bombardier CSeries jet and renamed it A220, declined comment on potential delays in deliveries of the airplane to Delta Air Lines.

Delta, which has taken delivery of four A220-100 jets, said by email it will work with the FAA to ensure the plane is "fully certified," and remains on schedule to begin flights on Jan. 31.

Analysts said they did not expect a major impact on large airlines' capacity as a result of the FAA delays, but will be awaiting management comments about the effect of a prolonged shutdown.

The shutdown is also affecting the certification program for business jet maker Gulfstream Aerospace's new G600 corporate plane, along with other "facets of our business," a company spokeswoman said on Monday without providing further details.

Savannah-based Gulfstream, a division of General Dynamics Corp. had expected to obtain certification or approval for the G600 by late 2018. The long-range business jet, which can fly nonstop from London to Los Angeles, is expected to enter service this year. (Reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Chicago, Allison Lampert in Montreal and Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Montreal and David Shepardson in Washington Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and James Dalgleish)

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