FAA wins controller showdown in Wisconsin

When Wisconsin’s biggest event — the air show in Oshkosh — takes place next month, the FAA will be providing air traffic controllers at what becomes the world’s busiest airport, and the organization that sponsors the event is hopping mad about it.

The Experimental Aircraft Association announced today it’s agreed to pay $450,000 in expenses for the air traffic controllers, after the FAA balked at sending them this year because of the sequester budget cuts.

“As far as we’re concerned, this isn’t over,” EAA Chairman Jack Pelton said in a press release this afternoon. “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.”

The FAA’s demand for payment in relation to air traffic services, first unexpectedly revealed by the agency in mid-May, left EAA, exhibitors and others in a position where millions of dollars had already been committed to AirVenture 2013. In addition, refusal of FAA services or not meeting the agency’s standards would have caused the FAA to void the necessary waivers that are essential for Oshkosh air operations during the event.

The one-time agreement will allow AirVenture to have a full complement of 87 FAA air traffic controllers and supervisors at the event for essential air safety services. Federal budget sequestration, however, will diminish the FAA’s presence at Oshkosh this year in areas such as forums and exhibits.

During AirVenture, controllers land three planes at once on the runway, in order to accommodate the large number of aircraft that fly in to the event.

The Oshkosh tower, which is privately contracted during the 51 other weeks of the year, was on the FAA’s list of control towers that would be closed. In the face of lawsuits, those closings have been delayed.

Earlier this year, the air show in St. Cloud, which is held a week before Oshkosh, was canceled because of uncertainty from the sequester.

(Disclaimer: I’m a member of EAA.)

  • DavidG

    I don’t know enough about the FAA rules on this kind of thing, was it standard for them to provide control for this kind of show at no charge?

    Not to pick on the EAA, but what makes them different from, say the Twin Cities Marathon (or any run/walk/bike event), which has to pay for traffic control and security from the Minneapolis Police and Minneapolis Parks?

  • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

    It’s not at no charge. The FAA sets the rules for the nations airports and they run them. They don’t belong to the EAA or the pilots. They determine the staffing level needed. These are services paid for by taxes on aviation fuel — or supposed to be. It’s no different than the FAA deciding there needs to be controllers in the tower over at MSP because a lot of planes are showing up today.

    In the end, I don’t think the FAA has been particularly clandestine on their plan for the sequester — make it hurt as much as possible for the flying public. The politicians pushed back when they had to wait to get on a flight and closed that door, and they’re looking for more places to gin up some political pressure.

    • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

      The other thing that bothers EAA is the underhanded way it was done. When the FAA announced cuts in the sequester, it specifically told EAA that the tower would be staffed and there was no problem. Keep in mind, this is an event that is planned a year out and brings more than 800,000 people out and planning is obviously pretty important. It wasn’t until May that that the FAA shook them down for the cash. It was pretty obvious to everyone that the EAA had no avenue of appeal and that the timing was meant to give them no choice but to pay the money.

      • DavidG

        I can understand being upset about the late demand for fees. So would the EAA be ok with negotiating a fee to cover the increased controller staffing for future events? Because, I guess I still don’t see how that differs much from the marathon example I gave.