As manager of the Fire Safety Team at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center, I am one of 640 employees furloughed because Congress did not approve an FAA authorization bill.
Being thrust out of a job after working your entire life is a traumatic experience. The uncertainty of the future is worrisome. But, more important, the work we do serves the American people and the aviation community, and it has come to a grinding halt.
The Fire Safety Team is the recognized world leader in aircraft fire safety. We operate the most extensive aircraft fire test facilities in the world. When you fly on an airliner - anywhere in the world - you are protected by fire blocked seats, low heat/smoke release walls, ceiling and stowage bins, floor proximity lighting, heat resistant evacuation slides, burn-through-resistant insulation, halon extinguishers, cargo compartment fire detection and extinguishing systems, burn-through-resistant cargo liners, ignition-resistant insulation and fuel tank explosion protection systems - all products of our research and development. Many hundreds of lives have been saved in past accidents following a crash or hard landing and by preventing accidents caused by in-flight fire.
Although most improvements are implemented through the regulatory process or by recommended guidance information, innovative Fire Safety Team technology is also adopted by the industry on its own. Boeing has installed more than 900 fuel-tank inerting (explosion prevention) systems in 737 and 777 production airplanes. This important protection measure was taken by Boeing before fuel tank "flammability reduction" became an FAA requirement in 2008. Our design will prevent a center wing fuel tank explosion, such as occurred in TWA 800 with the loss of 240 lives.
Another example is a patented microcalorimeter, which accurately measures the heat release of samples small enough to be picked up with tweezers. Boeing, Underwriter Laboratories, Dow Chemical and many other companies use the microcalorimeter as a quality control check and as a useful research tool. This technology has proliferated to wide applications outside aviation.
By saving lives and preventing accidents, our research products also promote aviation commerce by making flying safe. This is one of many important aircraft and airport safety and air traffic management R&D programs at the Technical Center, including the NextGen Air Transportation System.
Congressional failure to pass an FAA authorization bill has caused the furlough of 4,000 FAA employees nationwide. Hundreds of support contractors have been idled as well. However, these numbers pale in comparison to the 70,000 construction workers out of work because airport modernization projects have been shut down by the lack of an authorization bill.
I implore Congress to pass an authorization bill extension. I realize that this problem was dwarfed by the debt-ceiling debate. However, as an engineer, I look for practical and expedient solutions. Couldn't an extension be crafted and passed now without controversial provisions? This would allow debate on those provisions to occur at a time when Congress is not being consumed by greater national problems, and allow important aviation safety and NextGen research and development to resume - important and good work for the American people that is totally unrelated to the controversial provisions.
Manager, Fire Safety Team
FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center
Egg Harbor Township