EAA vs. FAA: It’s complicated

To be honest, I’m a bit conflicted about all that’s been going on with the Experimental Aircraft Association and the FAA’s demand that the association cover some of the costs of air traffic control at this month’s AirVenture.

Of course, EAA is much more than AirVenture. But once a year, it does host the mother of all aviation events.

One of the more important facets of AirVenture is traffic control. For years EAA has looked to, and partnered with, the best controllers to ensure a safe and orderly flow of traffic into, and out of, “The World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration.” Oh, and it also pays for the service.

Please meet the Oshkosh Police Department.

If you’ve ever attended AirVenture, and don’t camp on the grounds, you’ve seen Oshkosh’s finest each morning and afternoon. I’ve been to any number of events around the country and haven’t seen a better organized flow of ground-based traffic anywhere.

Despite paying for this service, I don’t ever recall hearing dissent from EAA brass. Perhaps I’m not reading the Oshkosh Northwestern, the local newspaper, close enough.

Police departments around the country are supported by a myriad of taxes — property, sales, income and more. By the way, EAA does, and should, pay property taxes. It owns a lot of property.

Yet when a group decides to host an event that will require traffic control, organizers often have to pony up to the local police for those services. Why? Because they are outside of normal operations.

Why should the airside of AirVenture be any different?

That said, I’m still not sure how I feel about the FAA charging EAA for AirVenture ATC services. The FAA is taking the “outside of normal operations” position. Does an event, with a 60-year history, ever achieve “normal” status? If so, does AirVenture qualify?

Complicating the thought process is my day job as publisher of General Aviation News. It’s complicated because I compete with EAA for sales. Many of my advertisers exhibit at AirVenture. Many don’t. Many who exhibit don’t advertise.

AirVenture gobbles up a lot of marketing and promotional revenue. I know — I pay a lot to attend AirVenture each year, including travel, lodging, meals, exhibit space and furniture, not to mention staffing. So does Aircraft Spruce and Sporty’s and Garmin and Cessna and Cirrus and 800 other exhibitors.

There is no way around it…AirVenture is a business. A really big business, with real income and expenses.

When I buy an airline ticket for myself or Janice Wood or Meg Godlewski to attend, I’m paying for ATC through the ticket tax. So are the thousands of other fly-in attendees with their ticket or fuel taxes. What is EAA paying?

More central to my internal conflict is why does the FAA exist? The pat answer is to ensure a safe and reliable aviation infrastructure. That is achieved, FAA officials would argue, through airmen and aircraft certification, airport infrastructure and Air Traffic Control services and more. Where does AirVenture fit? I wonder.

However, regardless of which side of the ATC fee you fall on, tip your hat or wag your wings and say thanks to those “boots on the ground — and in the tower” who help to make the event a bit safer and more enjoyable.

See you in Oshkosh…

Related posts:

  1. EAA Agrees To Pay
  2. Is FAA demand double taxation?
  3. EAA asked to cover some costs for AirVenture controllers
  4. EAA Will Pay For Controllers If It Must
  5. RV-1 #1 donated to EAA
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