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US government shutdown casts doubt on Delta's A220 launch plan

Delta Air Lines' long-running quest to begin Airbus A220 flights may face another hurdle – this one due to the ongoing shutdown of the US federal government.

The Atlanta-based carrier – the first US airline to acquire the A220 – has planned to place the type into revenue service on 31 January with flights from New York LaGuardia airport to Boston and Dallas-Fort Worth.

But the US budgetary standoff – which is about to enter a third week – has shuttered large swaths of the US government.

The Federal Aviation Administration already certified the A220 itself (those approvals came in 2016), but carriers cannot operate new aircraft types until the agency concludes an operational review and adds those types to airlines' operating certificates, insiders note.

FAA units tasked with that work, however, are not currently on the job, they say.

The process can be lengthy even when the government is open, and sometimes wraps up only shortly before an aircraft is scheduled enter service, says John Goglia, a former National Transportation Safety Board member who now helps aircraft operators navigate the process of placing new aircraft types into service.

The degree to which Delta has completed final certification work remains unknown, and the airline declines to answer questions about A220 certification.

However, Delta insists the government shutdown will not affect its schedules.

"Delta continues to monitor the situation and will work with the FAA to ensure that the A220 is fully certified when it enters our fleet," Delta tells FlightGlobal. "No customer disruption or impact to schedules are expected."

The still-shuttered FAA did not respond to questions from FlightGlobal.

The FAA's process of adding aircraft types to operating certificates involves a review of a carrier's ability to operate the type safety. Inspectors ensure pilots have completed approved training programmes and that airlines have adequate maintenance support, Goglia says. The FAA also ensures the aircraft carry all required safety equipment.

Though much paperwork is involved, the process culminates with a physical aircraft inspection by FAA officials, he says. They "open everything up and spot check" to ensure the aircraft meets the FAA's requirements.

Delta has already faced a lengthy fight in its quest to become the first US carrier to operate the A220, which had been owned by Bombardier and called the CSeries until Airbus acquire the programme last year.

Delta ordered 75 A220-100s in April 2016. In 2017, it rallied behind Bombardier when that company's rival Boeing filed a trade dispute with the US Department of Commerce.

Boeing claimed Bombardier received improper government subsidies, then sold A220s to Delta at artificially-low prices, violating US trade law by harming sales of 737-700s and 737 Max 7. The case effectively threatened to shut down Bombardier's ability to export the aircraft to the USA.

Bombardier, with Delta's support, won the case after a protracted fight when the US International Trade Commission ruled that Boeing's larger jets do not compete directly with A220s.

Delta received its first A220 in October 2018 and now has four aircraft in its fleet, according to Flight Fleets Analyzer.

In addition to the initial LaGuardia-Boston and LaGuardia-Dallas routes, Delta has said it will deploy A220s by this summer to Detroit, Houston and Salt Lake City.

The US government shut down on 22 December when lawmakers failed to agree on a funding bill due largely to disagreement over money earmarked for construction of a barrier along the US-Mexico border.

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