The Federal Aviation Administration is ending its practice of staffing a control tower at the major EAA AirVenture airshow held each summer in Oshkosh for free and now wants some $500,000 from the Experimental Aircraft Association to pay for the flight controllers.
Guiding about 10,000 aircraft to a smooth landing makes the central tower more or less the busiest in the world when the airshow is in full swing, and volunteers (who are also veteran air traffic controllers) from around the country are deployed in strictly organized groups to guide planes around the grounds. To lead such a team, a controller must have at least three years of experience at OSH, the EAA airport. (Fun fact: The current air traffic manager overseeing all of these operations is Wanda Adelman of General Mitchell International Airport.)
The FAA has historically provided free controllers to major airshows in the U.S., but the agency, hit hard by the federal sequestration cuts, is demanding payment this time around.
EAA leaders are outraged and say they were caught off-guard by the late announcement. Wisconsin senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on Thursday saying pilots have already provided financial support through excise taxes on federal aviation fuel, and asking them to pay again would amount to a new user fee and quite possibly a damper on “the single largest gathering of the general aviation community.” The letter credits it with bringing half a million people (one for every dollar the FAA is asking for) to the area and $110 a year in economic impact.
A number of other senators from both parties signed onto the letter, including Republicans Tom Coburn and Orin Hatch.
(ultralight photo via Shutterstock)