3,000 airline safety inspectors off the job due to government shutdown, union says

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WASHINGTON -- Nearly 3,000 aviation safety inspectors are being furloughed by the Federal Aviation Administration as part of the government shutdown, the union representing the inspectors said Monday.

The inspectors check to make sure airlines are maintaining their planes safely, conduct inspections at airports of planes and pilots, and visit domestic and foreign repair stations where airlines send planes for major overhauls, among other safety jobs, said Kori Blalock Keller, a spokeswoman for the union, Professional Aviation Safety Specialists.

Union officials initially thought the FAA had made a mistake when they received word of the furloughs, Blalock Keller said. But FAA Administrator Michael Huerta confirmed the inspector furloughs in a phone call with union officials Monday, she said.

Mike Perrone, the union's national president, said 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."

Employees critical to public safety are generally exempt from the furloughs.

A spokesperson with the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport said the furlough would have no operational impact on their operations.

A phone call made to the Federal Aviation Administration Flight Standards District Office in Cincinnati was met with a message stating normal office hours were suspended due to the government shutdown. The message stated business with the office would only be done by appointment.

The office, according to its government website, is responsible for licensing, enforcement of airmen and aircraft regulations, accident response, and operational issues.

FAA spokeswoman Kristie Greco declined to confirm the union's tally of the number of inspectors furloughed and the type of inspections they conduct. She said nearly 2,500 safety office personnel – including some inspectors – will be furloughed, but they may be called back to work incrementally over the next two weeks.

"Many employees will be on call and ready to return to work if necessary," she said.

Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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