Editor's note: Updated with comment from Dassault Falcon, and comment from the office of U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle.
An estimated 250 workers at Dassault Falcon’s Little Rock operation may soon be sent home if the federal government shutdown continues. And Gov. Mike Beebe (D) is none too happy about that possibility.
Dassault Falcon, based in France, operates a “Completion Center” at the Little Rock National Airport (Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport) that retrofits corporate jets. On Oct. 2, a Dassault Falcon corporate jet (Falcon 2000S) retrofitted at the Little Rock operation was the 500th plane to be delivered.
But the company is unable to bring “green” aircraft to Little Rock from France because key Federal Aviation Administration personnel who issue the permits are furloughed because of the shutdown. For the same reason, the company is also unable to have retrofitted planes inspected before they depart the Little Rock center.
“It’s not the FAA’s fault,” Beebe said Monday (Oct. 7) when asked if his office was working with FAA on the issue. “It’s nobody’s fault except those policy makers who won’t get off their duff and stop this stuff. ... It’s hurting real people. It’s hurting real jobs.”
Jeff Griffin, vice president-finance for Dassault in Little Rock, said plane arrivals prior to Oct. 21 have been permitted.
“We could be in trouble in about three weeks if this thing (shutdown) goes on,” Griffin said. “We’ve gone to the FAA, and they are basically telling us they are there just to take care of safety and if someone gets hurt.”
Dassault employs 1,900 in central Arkansas, and in the past 12 months the operation has retrofitted 69 planes.
According to a report from Aviation Today, the FAA has furloughed more than 15,000 employees. The FAA also furloughed about 100 of 1,200 certification inspectors. However, those not furloughed are not allowed to work on new projects, permits or inspections.
“With only a small fraction of FAA certification engineers and inspectors on the job, the FAA will not initiate any new certification projects and will not be able to support smaller companies that rely on direct FAA support for design approvals. This will have immediate impact on small companies,” noted a statement from the Aerospace Industries Association.
The Aviation Today article also noted that the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) identified 12 deliveries scheduled for the first two days of October that have been delayed due to the furloughing of workers at the FAA Aircraft Registry office in Oklahoma City. GAMA has identified 123 aircraft deliveries by its member companies that are scheduled for delivery during the first half of October at an estimated value of $1.38 billion.
According to GAMA, there were 283 business jets shipped worldwide during the first six months of 2013, down 4.1% compared to the same period in 2012. GAMA said the eneral aviation (GA) market is beginning to recover from a slump that began in 2008.
“Billings for GA airplanes worldwide reached $10.4 billion, up 26.4 percent from the same period last year, when they totaled $8.2 billion. This marks the first time since 2008 that airplane revenues have exceeded $10 billion in the first six months of the year,” noted a GAMA report.
Beebe has sought help from some members of Arkansas’ Congressional Delegation, but said he doubts there is much that can be done to return to work a subset of FAA employees.
Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said a Dassault Falcon work stoppage also would result in numerous layoffs among other central Arkansas companies that support the retrofit operation.
Beebe said he and other Republican and Democratic Governors around the country are frustrated by how the shutdown is hurting their state economies.
“We cannot in the state of Arkansas, make up for the federal problem. We don’t have enough resources in the world to take up the slack for what the feds aren’t doing. ... And there is no reason for this. The american people deserve better than this,” Beebe said.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., also expressed frustration when asked to comment on the potential layoffs at Dassault
"I'm disappointed that the partisanship in Congress has resulted in a government shutdown. What is most frustrating is that this inability to find common ground directly impacts the services Americans rely on and puts the livelihood of hardworking Arkansans, including those in the private sector, at risk. The shutdown is already impacting many Arkansas families and has the potential to inconvenience even more. A government shutdown has real implications for seniors, veterans, hardworking families and Arkansas businesses that rely on the services provided by federal agencies. We need to work together so we can eliminate this interruption in government services."
An official with the Arkansas office of U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said because of the shutdown they are not "legally permitted to respond to press requests.”
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, has been the most vocal proponent among Arkansas’ Congressional delegation in seeking to use the federal budget issue to delay or defund Obamacare.
Caroline Rabbitt, communications director of Cotton issued this statement when asked about the possible Dassault Falcon layoffs: "The House has voted to keep the government open, it's the Senate's refusal to give up their special Obamacare subsidy and delay the individual mandate for one year that shut down the government. It's only fair to give hard-working Arkansans the same break businesses and Members of Congress and their staffs are getting."