One of those projects involved soundproofing 150 homes in neighborhoods surrounding the airport, where residents have dealt with the sounds of jets for decades. "We had 150 homes that we were about ready to award a contract for construction, of the insulation, the air conditioning, the doors and windows that would make life easier for folks. That's been suspended," said FYI Aviation Director Russell Widmar.
In all, $23 million earmarked for FYI is in limbo because Congress failed to pass a funding bill for the F.A.A. The agency hasn't had a complete funding bill since 2007 and the last in a series of extensions expired Friday night.
At FYI, the impasse is affecting three major projects including the soundproofing of homes, a runway reconstruction project, and improvements to an apron, where jets park. Widmar said the lack of funding means several employees are without work but passengers aren't affected at all. "The safety of traveling public is not at risk, because we don't use capital money to do day-to-day operating of the airport. So everything is the same as it was a week ago and it will be a week from now," said Widmar.
Fresno aviation expert Kent Scott said because the shutdown has little impact on passengers, the impasse could last for months. Major sticking points include a GOP provision that makes it harder for airline workers to unionize and the elimination of $16.5 million in government subsidies to 13 rural airports across the country. "You, the government, meaning us the taxpayer, pays for these big airplanes, to go find out, 'Oh, there's five people that want to fly today.' They pay $50 and the government pays $1,000 to the airline to take them there. They call it 'Emergency Airline Service' but it's not an emergency. It's a convenience thing," said Scott.
During this impasse, passengers are still being charged taxes that normally go to the F.A.A., to the tune of $200 million a week. But with no agency to collect that money, some airlines are giving it back to the customer. Others are keeping it.