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It’s been 23 days since the United States federal government entered a partial shut down, now the longest in the nation’s history. As a result, thousands of government employees have either been working without pay or have been furloughed. Among them: most of the Federal Aviation Administration’s 3,000 safety inspectors.

But according to the Associated Press, the FAA has announced that it has brought back approximately 500 furloughed inspectors, with more expected to return to work soon. Agency spokesperson Gregory Martin did not provide specifics.

Though aviation safety inspectors do crucial work, they are not actually considered essential. As a result, thousands of FAA safety inspectors deemed “nonessential” were furloughed following the shutdown. At a recent protest in Miami, furloughed inspectors held signs with phrases like, “Was your airplane properly repaired and inspected today? The FAA does not know!” In Newark, signs warned travelers that there was “no safety oversight of [their] flight.”

According to the FAA, aviation safety inspectors “administer, investigate and enforce safety regulations and standards for the production, operation, maintenance and modification of all aircraft flying today.” They are something like the last line of defense against mistakes, and specialize in four critical fields including maintenance and operations. The union that represents these safety inspectors said that the duties of aviation safety inspectors include “performing oversight of commercial aircraft, pilots and maintenance facilities, as well as conducting in-flight and ramp inspections.”

Basically, they oversee and sign-off on work, such as repairs performed by FAA maintenance workers. They ensure that the aircraft operated by the airlines you fly are safe and that those airlines follow necessary protocol. Yet the majority of these ASIs have been furloughed since the partial shutdown began on Dec. 22.

An FAA employee sits at his desk overseeing flights (Photo by Pete Marovich For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
An FAA employee sits at his desk overseeing flights (Photo by Pete Marovich For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Now, the FAA has decided to bring hundreds of safety inspectors and technical staff back to work in an effort to “[ease] strains on the aviation system,” the AP reported. Meanwhile, FAA employees considered essential, including air traffic controllers, will continue to be required to work without pay until the government shutdown ends.

Featured image by Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

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