Safety issues raised after FAA inspectors assigned to Lindbergh FIeld are furloughed

SAN DIEGO - Airline passengers may be at risk as the federal government's partial shutdown has forced federal safety inspectors to stay home.

"As time goes on, it's a big concern," said Mike Perrone, president of Professional Aviation Specialists, the union representing aviation safety inspectors.

Right now, almost all inspectors -- about 3,000 -- have been furloughed, including 20 at San Diego's Lindbergh Field.

"At no other time have they not been working," said Perrone.

That work includes plane inspections at the gate and in-flight inspections looking at everything from equipment to pilot actions.

"We're talking about a procedure that isn't being done correctly, maybe it's a maintenance issue that hasn't been closed out properly, or maybe it's the aircraft itself," said Perrone.

In 2009, a safety inspector discovered Southwest Airlines was using unauthorized parts for repairs, which grounded 46 aircraft.

Just before the government shutdown, an inspector determined that Allegiant Air may not have performed adequate inspections on their evacuation slides -- this after a cockpit smoke alarm sounded.

With the inspectors on the sidelines, the burden shifts to the airlines to self-regulate.

"It doesn't make me feel too safe," said passenger Dominic Carlos.

While some passengers are leery, there are others who aren't.

"I still feel safe. I think people know what they're doing," said traveler Carol Shields.

Peronne believes it's inevitable that issues will fall through the cracks -- issues that could become much larger ones.

"It's hard to know when the danger point or tipping point is going to occur … the longer we go, the more potential something is going to occur," said Perrone.

In a statement, the FAA says, "Safety is our top priority … If the furlough extends longer than a few days, we will incrementally begin to recall specific employees back to work to meet continuing safety needs."

An FAA spokesperson told 10News they will have more information on recalling employees on Monday.

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