By Dick Knapinski, EAA Communications
I had the opportunity to read your column regarding the AirVenture ATC fees being assessed by the FAA. You’re absolutely right – it’s complicated.
There are some significant differences in your comparison between the FAA and the Oshkosh Police Department, and other points to consider as well, however:
- As some commenters mentioned, GA has already paid for FAA’s services through fuel taxes. You asked how EAA contributes to this. EAA is the single largest fuel purchaser at Wittman Regional Airport during AirVenture, with air show operations, Tri-Motor/helicopter flights, and more. Thus, EAA is contributing significantly to that fund along with other aviators at Oshkosh.
- FAA exists, according to its mission, to provide a safe and effective air traffic system in the U.S. Therefore, its mission should be flexible enough to handle traffic where the airplanes are. If there is a multi-day peak in airline traffic in Chicago or Atlanta or LAX, the FAA merely schedules more personnel. It doesn’t raise the airline ticket tax or charge the airport more. In late July, the airplanes are in Oshkosh.
- The FAA had budgeted for Oshkosh services and other aviation events in its 2013 budget. It was only the sequestration situation and its associated politics that changed the equation.
- EAA and other Oshkosh events (it is known as Wisconsin’s Event City) do contribute to local police overtime. Other regular duties in and around the grounds are still handled as part of the Oshkosh police’s daily operations.
- The city of Oshkosh recently created a new events permit process that increased costs for all events in the city. A major difference was that the city spent more than a year with stakeholders to work through problems and objections before the city council approved the new process, which included accountability for the city’s charges. This is completely unlike the FAA, which assessed the fees without warning, without a comment/review process and without the approval of Congress – and with no accountability procedure mentioned.
- AirVenture certainly has a business aspect to it. It is GA’s largest annual marketplace. Exhibitors spend money to make money there. EAA also makes revenue from it (if it didn’t, EAA members would need to ask some other hard questions). But where does that money go? It goes back into programs, such as the SportAir Workshops, member and information services, government advocacy, and other areas that benefit members and aviation. Money paid to the FAA means less revenue to those programs.
- This is about more than AirVenture. We’re certainly the most visible entity and face the largest bill, but what about events such as Arlington (which was also surprised with thousands of dollars in added fees this year) or other events that have reduced or curtailed their events because of these sudden FAA fees? Each one of those losses lessens our aviation community as a whole.
It is complicated, certainly. Yet it is also simple: General aviation has paid for these services. The FAA has arbitrarily decided to assess more, without permission from its bosses in Congress or any accountability for its charges. That is an ominous sign, not only for GA but for any entity that has a relationship with a federal government agency.