June 14--The EAA AirVenture on Thursday completed a one-time agreement with the FAA over disputed charges for air traffic control services at the Oshkosh organization's large aviation convention that starts in July.
Last month the Federal Aviation Administration told EAA AirVenture officials the cost for air traffic controllers to come to Oshkosh would be more than $400,000. AirVenture authorities were stunned because FAA air traffic controllers and supervisors have come to Wittman Regional Airport for decades to handle thousands of planes at no additional cost to AirVenture.
Air traffic control operations are funded through aviation fuel taxes.
But FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has said that even though Congress allowed the agency flexibility to keep air control towers open during the sequestration, the FAA needs to cut $384 million by the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30. The FAA charged a Florida aviation convention earlier this year for air traffic control expenses.
EAA Chairman Jack Pelton said the FAA's new charges are akin to holding AirVenture and general aviation pilots hostage.
"As far as we're concerned, this isn't over," Pelton said. "We entered this agreement only because there was no other realistic choice to preserve aviation's largest annual gathering. We also look forward to FAA's leadership coming to Oshkosh this year to personally explain their policy to the nation's aviators."
EAA AirVenture attracts more than 10,000 planes and thousands of spectators for its weeklong aviation convention, transforming the small airport in Oshkosh into the busiest airfield in the world for a few days and bringing in an estimated $110 million to the state. This year's event is July 29-Aug. 4.
The FAA told AirVenture the bill is not for hours worked by the controllers and supervisors in the tower during the convention but for their travel expenses to Oshkosh and the cost to pay for replacements at their home airports. The controllers are paid their normal salaries for their work at Oshkosh.
AirVenture will make a partial payment of the $447,000 bill with the remaining sum to be paid after the FAA completes its air traffic control duties the convention. The aviation organization included a letter stating it signed the contract under protest.
The one-time agreement will allow AirVenture to have 87 air traffic controllers and supervisors handling thousands of takeoffs and landings. Had AirVenture not paid the money, the FAA would have denied special waivers for the air space over Oshkosh required for the aviation convention.
The FAA normally has a very visible presence at AirVenture each year through forums, workshops, exhibits and a pavilion plus a visit each year by the FAA administrator to meet with the general aviation community and answer questions. The sequestration will mean a diminished presence by the FAA at this year's AirVenture.
"We understand that AirVenture and other (general aviation) events are pawns in the larger sequestration political standoff, so it's important that we stand together and let those in Congress and the White House know the importance of aviation," Pelton said.
Copyright 2013 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel