Dekalb County, GA
Marion Epps silently watched President Barack Obama’s Tuesday afternoon press conference, looking for signs of an end to the government shutdown. After about ten minutes, she shook her head.
“It looks like it’s going to extend even longer than we expected,” said Epps, the chief financial officer at her family’s business – Epps Aviation. Based at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, Epps specializes in selling and servicing aircraft of all types.
About 50-percent of our income is based on sales,” she said. But because the government shut down has forced the closure of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aircraft Registry in Oklahoma City, that end of her business and every one like it in the country is grounded indefinitely.
The Registry contains all records of aircraft sales, including titles, liens and registration documents. Without it, no transactions can be finalized and recorded.
Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association, compared it to the state’s tag agencies for cars and trucks.
“Can you imagine if there were no new or used automobile transactions in the United States until the shutdown was over?” Bolen asked. “This is the reality for our industry.”
Johnny Foster is president of O’Gara Jets, with offices near I-75 and 285. His company employs eight people.
“Our family started the business, but we’re all family together,” he said. Foster prides himself on never having laid off a single worker, never cutting pay and never being forced to curtail benefits.
“We’re in a good position to weather this shutdown,” he said. “We have cash reserves. But if this goes on too long, members of my own family (his father founded O’Gara and still works there) will have to take cuts.”
Epps pointed to a measure now before Congress that would reimburse federal workers whose paychecks are lost to the shutdown.
“Where’s my reimbursement? Who’s going to make up for the business I lose?” she wondered.
The aviation industry had just started climbing out of a devastating slump sparked by the Great Recession. Business in 2009 fell off at least 30-percent industry-wide, said Foster. Now, he has four aircraft ready to deliver that, instead of being flown to their new owners are sitting on the ground without anything to document the transfer of ownership. Twelve more aircraft sales are in the final stages, he said.
“I’m most worried about those deals,” said Foster. “Aircraft sales is an emotional business. If you can’t move quickly, time kills deals. Will people lose sight of the aircraft? We could lose the contract.”
What’s a broker to do?
“Have you contacted your representatives in Congress and told them how you feel about all this?” WSB’s Pete Combs asked Foster.
“No, in the current environment, I don’t see that it would do any good,” he replied. “I don’t think there’s much any of us can do but go for the ride.”
But Epps said she still believes her voice and the voices of other aviation business owners and employees can make a difference.
“We’ve contacted our lawmakers numerous times to let them know how we feel. We’re members of NATA (the National Air Transport Association) and NBAA and they’re mounting a major campaign to get the Registry reopened.”