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…


  1. William Smith says

    It’s clear to me that those with power take from those that don’t. Nothing new here. Look at the numbers published by the FAA. General aviation operations have significantly declined since about 2001. If you went to Sun-N-Fun back in the 90’s and compare it to last spring it becomes obvious. Yet, in my area the number of FSDO personal over the last ten years have increased significantly. If operations are down it makes sense that fuel tax revenue is down also. Do the math.
    You can see the numbers at the link below. But let me warn you, their not pretty : http://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/72392/ICAT%20REPORT%20SHETTY.pdf?sequence=1

  2. says

    The FAA is not a private business whose services can be purchased or not as the customer chooses. It’s an arm of the government. Do as it says or pay the price. Basically the FAA extorted this money from the EAA, which had no viable alternative to paying up.

    Whether it’s right or wrong for the EAA to pay for the services that the FAA is providing to AirVenture, what is the statutory authority for the FAA to charge the EAA? If there is no statutory authority, then the FAA can cook up user feeds on its own. And if the FAA is now going to a fee-for-service model, can I get a fuel tax refund since the majority of my flying is from an uncontrolled field and has no interaction with ATC?

    • Kimberly Bush says

      Nice try. And I dream of a man that has is a millionaire who will drive me around and carry my bags while I spend it.
      You know that fuel taxes don’t all go to ATC funding.
      Guys, you think you have it so tough, buy a semi-truck and trailer and go into ground transport business. You get to buy a reciprocal plate, if you are based in IL and the cost is pro-rated according to your miles travelled in various states (and subject to audit) and the base plate cost exceeds $1000.
      In addition, they pay $550 in Highway Use Tax, up from a previous cost of $210. (Yep, that jump was MORE THAN double). Maybe some of the DC idjits will think up the justification for a Skyway Use tax to justify increases.
      Also of note in ground transportation is the out of state fuel use tax. Many states have their own taxes (Ohio comes to mind. Must need money for updates to that Wright Bros museum) and if you don’t buy the prerequisite amount of fuel in a given state for miles driven in that state (trying to find cheap fuel and save money for yourself or your company), you get to pay the fuel tax alone anyway.
      Please don’t’ mention the word ‘deregulation’ in my presence. I experienced an drop in revenue from $900 to $450 from 1979 to 1980 in hauling Owens Corning roofing insulation from metro KC to metro Chicago.
      Give me something we can USE, please.

  3. Dave says

    OUTSTANDING article about the ‘complications’ involved, and I’ve read almost all. This one is so right about both points of view. It’s politics, plain and simple. While I would rather my EAA money go to more worthy causes, I think you made an excellent point about the comparison with police services “above and beyond” normal duties. I don’t know what a contractor would charge for providing air traffic services, but I certainly doubt EAA would want to take on the liability for providing the service themselves. I’m sure the controllers that are there in pink shirts didn’t decide to charge EAA and would appreciate a “tip your hat or wag your wings and say thanks” the same way a contractor would if they were providing the service (I plan on thanking either when I get there safely). In the end, excellent article and one well worth reading.

  4. August Mazzella says

    I think what everyone is losing sight of is that this government has out of control overspending.
    It’s just another example of tax in any manner possible without fiscal responsibility.
    Make no mistake about it this is another tax with many saying its ok to pass it on and others will follow.
    I for one think it will be a big mistake to continue paying, particularly when we are paying with fuel taxes.

  5. Richard says

    One thing it seems almost everyone is missing is that we are a nation of laws. Our lawmakers(Congress) has already told the FAA No To User Fees, yet this bureacracy has ignored them. One of the things they said was that the fee besides covering ATC was to cover the cost of waivers so that taxiways could be used as runways. Give me a break!!! How much does it cost to say: “Yep, you can land & take off from the taxiway.” I haven’t been to Oshkosh(Airventure) in several years.. Do the airlines still serve Wittman Field and, if so, are they paying extra during the fly-in?

    • says

      Richard; Your 100% correct – we’re a nation of laws – MANY not justified or make any cent$ at all! No offense to the “legal” profession, but just ask the business community – small or large, how our brilliant lawmakers have severely handy caped their ability to be successful and not go bankrupt. Frankly, I’ll go “on record” that until government at ALL levels “gets it”, that the REASON that WE, (the nation), has the financial problems it has, can be traced to the “powers to be” and their total indifference of how a free market economic system works!

  6. Dan DeVilers says

    This is what I posted to the EAA forums:

    Concerts and other big gatherings like football games hire local police officers to provide security and crowd control for their events. These private events pay for those services.

    I think I have changed my tune to think that we should also be able to fund our services directly. However, and this is critical, we need to pay for the services we need, not inflated inefficient government services.

    FAA dollars, and the government in general, are paying for defined benefit pensions and antiquated systems. Employees in the private sector typically have defined contribution pension funds (if they get a pension at all) and are always working to change and improve the systems they are working with. Retirement is not automatic at some age.

    If, and only if, we can do something to ensure that we only pay for services rendered and not be sacked with the huge entitlement costs killing our government, I agree that we should pay a fee for our big event…

  7. Cole says

    I rather expect that the Oshkosh police can get federal funding to offset increased presence and overtime, just the way New York City and Las Vegas do each year for New Year’s Eve. It’s a simple matter of whining to the right agencies. Let’s face it, it’s not EAA that’s paying the fee, it’s everybody who attends (unlike those big New Year’s parties) — including pilots who have already paid for controller services with the fuel tax. And while that service is being provided at Oshkosh, it’s being cut elsewhere. Chicago Center provides NO service to VFR pilots going to and from AirVenture — yet we’re still paying taxes on the fuel we use to transit their sectors. Maybe EAA should hire contract controllers for AirVenture next year and politely decline the FAA’s services and the opportunity to have a presence there at all.

    • Greg W says

      I fully agree, I attended every year through the ’80s and went again in 2007. Due to the later experience my wife want’s nothing to do with ANY airplane event again, and I sure don’t want to go to Oshkosh again. Some in the crowd around us were thrilled at the crash of the two P-51’s, like the pilot would get out and wave like a Nascar crash! They were an airshow crowd there for the specticle, not airplane people there for the national convention of the old EAA and to learn what’s new.

    • Kimberly Bush says

      Rod, I just spent three years in college. All of my reports were related to aviation in some way (except the one for econ about beer producers, and the argument could be made….). I contacted FAA and IDOT and EAA and AOPA and ALPA among others in my research. I also discovered a 3 inch thick book in Becker Library at Benedictine in Springfield that was ‘the complete history of aviation in the US’. In it there was reference to the CAB and other agencies that were the forerunners of the FAA. At some point in its history, the FAA was charged with both the safety AND promotion of aviation. My contact at Great Lakes informed me this all changed when commercial pilots were allowed to work until age 65 (in 2007). Their mission is now ONLY the safety factor. It is being left up to those directly involved in aviation to self-promote.
      When the FAA Re-authorization Act was up for vote, I e-mailed my Congressman Aaron Schock and told him to quit being silly. I have friends who work for the FAA and they have families to support and mortgages to pay, just like the others.
      His reply was startling: something to the effect that his current reasoning for no longer voting for blanket (or shell) appropriations bills was that many federal agencies are bypassing Congress in instituting policies that directly or indirectly conflict with existing laws passed by Congress. In the absence of an actual law, directives are written to deal with a specific situation, then Congress is expected to fund it.
      I have been calling NextGen “No Child Left Behind for Pilots” because it is an unfunded federal mandate. I could scare you with details that I have found out about this system. When I asked, “Please tell me this is not a lowest bidder award”, the answer was “Lockheed Martin is a well-respected company”
      Uh-huh, and one that is currently stratospherically over budget on the latest military fighter jet.
      But, you know, it’s not REAL money we are talking about here. It’s tax dollars.

  8. Barry says

    The FAA is has opened a temporary tower at DRO because of the number of fire fighting aircraft. This is definetly not norml operations and to my knowlege, no charges.

  9. John Gill says

    I’ve seen this greed many times by gouging the public at a special time. This is the kiss of death for everyone. People won’t continue to be plummeted and will stop spending their money. Businesses lose out as well as all the support facilities. The FAA won’t get any more money etc. etc. There is always a breaking point with greed.

  10. Barry says

    Actually, I believe the FAA in breaking the law. As I recall, the only federal agency authorized to charge directly for services is the Post Office.

  11. George Thomas says

    So how much fuel is bought to fly to air venture!!
    I thought when we paid the fuel tax to get there, is that not enough for the FAA?
    Does this not fund the FAA.
    Maybe someone can come up with a # that goes to the FAA for all the fuel used to get there and back for every aircraft that flies there??
    I know I can get there from Washington State and never talk to a controller all the way there and back except for arrival and departure from Osh.

    • Rich says

      Even then you don’t have to TALK to them.

      You get in line, follow the guy in front of you and land.
      They might tell you what color dot to land on but that is about it.

  12. Sam Hart says

    This is a good discussion, and I also believe we must not consider the FAA to be the “bad guys” even when they sometimes demonstrate poor administration. We must work with the FAA to understand their funding problems and help solve them with the most acceptable solutions. That said, I still feel that the FAA is slapping down this fee at the last minute because they know that EAA cannot cancel Air-venture. They are doing this because in this instance they can get away with it. If they were to try and apply user fees for all operations “outside of normal” (i.e., Super Bowl, Masters Tournament, US Open, etc.) they would evoke the ire of an unacceptably larger voice.

  13. says

    All the pilots going to and from Oshkosh pay a huge fuel tax which is supposed to support the FAA. I did a quick cut on the 10,000 aircraft flying to/from the event and
    found that $490,000 in fuel tax was generated.

  14. Billy M. Henderson says

    Dear Ben,
    One wonders about the problem of paying for air traffic control at Air Adventure when the convention brings in millions of dollarsof economic benefit to the state of Wisconsin. It also helps to preserve aviation and justify the very purpose of having FAA employees. The state and federal government should, in my opinion, give them a hand,. This is especially true of those charges with the responsiblity for tourist development. It should be a joint effort of all those involved.

  15. Daniel Feldman says

    So here is the question. If EAA has to pay FAA for trafic control does that mean the feds will suspend the tax on aviation fuel sold at the event? That is how the Feds fund the FAA. By my reconing the government collects a huge windfall when those 10 thousand plus aircraft fly to and from Air Venture.

    In truth I have no problem with some kind of a charge being levied against EAA. Up the ticket price 50 cents and that will cover it. I do however object to the last minute nature of the charge, the refusal of the FAA to justify or clean up their budget even when they knew they were facing the sequester and a refusal of the FAA to answer inquiries from congress prior to the sequester taking place. With very little planning it should have been easy for them to get through the sequester with barely a hicup. Instead the FAA like most of the government buried its head in the sand and figured it would all work out when we agreed to pay more. After all better a pound of cure than an ounce of prevention.

  16. Mark Perle says

    It’s a rather large red herring comparing a city/county police budget to FAA. Having said that, I am in agreement we shouldn’t expect a handout from FAA. A very simple solution is to REQUEST (versus REQUIRE) every aircraft to fill out a simple survey, listing the aircraft N number, and the gallons (or lbs) of fuel used to/during/from Oshkosh for this event. With this data, it should be a fairly simple calculation to determine the taxes flowing to FAA because of Oshkosh. I would be very comfortable funding FAA’s expenses over and above what is being collected in fuel taxes by those participating in this event. And, if EAA reads this, it should be fairly easy to implement this survey at time of aircraft registration…

  17. GeorgeM says

    No problem … pay the fee… then charge EVERY non-tower-related FAA employee (who are at that point employed by EAA) the standard gate fee for access should they choose to attend.

  18. Tom Yarsley says

    Is the annual Super Bowl “outside of normal operations?” Please be sure to let us know when the FAA sends a bill to the NFL.

  19. John Picker says

    Several well written comments here. When I received the first comment from AOPA, slamming the FAA, I immediately wrote a dissenting view. I don’t know if the amount of the charge is appropriate, particularly if the controllers are all, or part, volunteers. But clearly, whatever the costs which the FAA is asked to cover should be paid for as a convention expense. And yes, same for Sun n Fun, and other similar events. You can properly argue that GA costs are generally incremental on top of basic cost of providing a safe environment to the entire aviation community and paid for by our gas taxes… but when one segment costs “extra”, particularly for a single event, they should be asked to cover the expenses.

  20. Bob Hala says

    The difference is how they get paid for their services. Does the police department get paid more money because there is a bunch of people in one concentrated area that requires additional security…of course they don’t. Does the FAA get extra tax money from fuel sales when a huge group of aircraft are concentrated in one area that requires additional air coordination….of course they do, and they get a lot of extra money. They are double dipping. If AirVenture pays for FAA services, they should be able to keep the fuel taxes. Government accounting of where the taxes go probably muddies this argument, but the true intent of the tax is there and users shouldn’t have to pay twice.

  21. Steve Smith says

    The author notes the unprecedented fees being charged after a 60 year history of this event. A line has been crossed, and once the government gets it’s hands in your wallet they will certainly come back for more. When was the last time taxes went down? I believe we are being charged for something we’ve already paid for. As a side note an excerpt from a recent news article:
    Mr. Obama has unveiled an ambitious program to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, investing $7 billion in financial support for an initiative called “Power Africa.”

  22. Marc Lee Winnig says

    So here’s what I think the EAA should have done…

    The money was supposedly for food, lodging and travel expenses. With camp Scholler, economies of scale, vendor discounts and donations… the EAA should have just setup a special (secure) camp for the ATC workers. Catered meals, shuttle bus/golf car service, group meals, the whole deal. I bet they could have provided a pleasant, safe and fun environment at a fraction of the cost (isn’t $400K a bit over 1/2 of the planned total)?

    Get them a fleet of RV’s with generators, AC, power, all the toys and connectivity they could possibly need.

    Pay the bill for the FAA’s arrangements? I think not!

    We’re paying… here’s where you are staying!

  23. Kimberly Bush says

    Interesting point of view. Here’s another:
    “More central to my internal conflict is why does the FAA exist? The pat answer is to ensure a safe and reliable aviation infrastructure.”
    Is this statement true?
    Is this there mission statement? (Remember a few years back when it was of the greatest importance to have a mission statement and a vision statement, as well as a marketing plan in order to succeed in business?)
    I attended Oshkosh last year and didn’t make note of every person I saw who appeared to be law enforcement. When the vast majority of attendees are pilots and Veterans, it is difficult to differentiate between the reasons a particular person is standing tall.
    What I do know for a fact is that whenever there is revenue being accrued, our federal government is going to find a way to ‘get theirs’. It isn’t theirs, it is ours. Government money is someone sticking their hands into YOUR pocket or wallet.
    I also know that I made absolute last-minute arrangements for Airventure 2012 and paid less than $200 per night for the Days Inn at Appleton, including the outrageous taxes that are charged to visitors for tourism efforts. They couldn’t guarantee that I would be staying in the same room for both nights, but they could guarantee me a room for both nights at the same rate, and there was no minimum number of nights I had to stay or any charge to my friend’s credit card until after check-out.
    This year, I thought I could save some money by planning a bit further in advance.
    THIS year, for Airventure 2013, I am expected to stay at least 3-4 days. If I don’t, I still have to pay for that minimum.
    At closer to $300 per night, if I can even find a room.
    I must make my reservation now, and they are charging my friend’s credit card 30 days in advance to ‘make sure it goes through’.
    So I am staying in Ripon.
    I am also driving in, and not staying for the entire event.
    Might stop by MKE on the way out of the state, since THAT show is the same weekend as the end of Airventure.
    Makes me wonder about a comment recently made by my friend Ed:
    “Without towers, pilots are forced to talk to each other.”
    What a unique concept!
    This year, I thought planning ahead would

  24. says

    Glade you wrote this, I too am on the fence on this. I’m a big believer in paying for what we use when it makes sense. In general user fees do not make sense, less noticeable and more easily processed taxes work better (IE fuel taxes). I suppose the question is really what does the FAA get out of covering the cost. I’m sure there are benefits to the system, there might be less pilots (thus less funding) without big airshows. There might be less people going into controller jobs. This might effect the FAA budgets. It’s like justifying the cost of an airport to a city, there are many benefits that are hard to quantify, these are quickly are realized when the runway is bulldozed.

    With this said the closer Aviation can get to covering the FAA’s cost through the Aviation based taxes the less footing those that want to impose per flight user fees have. So I think I’m closer to deciding that for these really large airshows, that it really does make sense to cover the cost at least in part, if nothing else as a talking point against per flight fees.

  25. Curious George says

    You make a good argument EXCEPT, that for any other venue the FAA charges for the cost of temporary towers etc. You correctly point out that AirVenture is big business. A lot of money changes hands. Your point about ticket taxes etc. somehow “paying” for AirVenture’s extra ATC costs is blowing smoke. Your ticket taxes and whatever just got you to the vicinity safely. For all of the whining and moaning I hear from aviation about the big business of AirVenture paying its way I’d think we were talking about some sacred social issue, like school lunches. Why do you go to AirVenture? To make money and increase your business. Why did the vendors I visited last trip attend? To make money (and they got a lot of mine!), and increase business. This isn’t a social program to help the needy. It’s a big business venture that just happens to be sponsored and organized by the white knight of aviation, EAA (who can easily afford to foot the bill… and the clientelle attending can likewise afford a buck or two on their ticket to cover ATC costs). It’s pretty clear that the argument about ‘who pays’ is just another ploy for a government handout… only to people who really don’t need it.

  26. Sam says

    One difference from police/security funding is that ATC services are paid for by fuel taxes. The extra fuel purchased to get all those planes to Oshkosh provides an increase in tax revenue specifically because the event exists. I’m not saying the increase in collected taxes would cover the full $450k, but I am wondering just how much of it is covered. Does anyone know if this was figured into the calculation the bill sent the EAA?

    • Tim Fountain says

      Sam, you just swallowed half the lie without realizing it. Part of the EAA’s issue with the fee was the lack of justification for the amount that the FAA proposed ($450K). There is just no way that the service, salaries (which are already paid for), per-diem’s etc. etc. add up to even half that amount and the FAA so far has not come clean on how it arrived at the number.
      So the real question is how much additional tax is generated by all the planes flying into OSH and does that cover the necessary and real expenses of providing the services the FAA are planning on providing?

  27. says

    Ben is on the right track here, in my opinion. Issues are rarely as cut-and-dried as advocacy organizations (not just in aviation, rather virtually all of them) make them out to be. One person’s equal treatment under the law/regulation often seems to be another person’s preferred treatment or unfair treatment.
    The FAA is in a tough spot due to funding issues brought about by generations of a government unwilling or unable to correct fundamental issues regarding taxes and spending. I don’t envy them. I also don’t envy EAA, who after 60 years had pretty much assumed the FAA was going to act as they have for the last 59. In their shoes, I’d probably have planned the same way.
    And I don’t envy Ben or GAN for the tightrope we all have to walk at times. Do we sound like traitors and exclaim that maybe the alphabet groups are not always right? Or do we just lay the blame at the feet of the big bad FAA, an organization pilots love to hate?
    Or do we consider that maybe the truth lies in between and maybe, just maybe, in order to save an industry I have been passionate about for 30 years, we sit down, have the hard conversations, and find the middle ground where truth likely lies? The last choice is hardest, but in the end may be our ONLY choice.
    PS. These opinions are my own and not those of any organization I work for. Nor do I mean to disparage the fine work of EAA and other advocacy groups.

  28. Richard Collins says

    Hi Ben:

    Thanks for shedding a little light on the subject from a different direction. Interesting and pertinent discussion.

  29. Bob Reiff says

    “What is EAA paying?”

    Even if EAA pays this new tax created by FAA, they are not really paying it. Businesses don’t pay taxes, they merely collect them. They collect them from their customers and pass them along to the government. Just like all the other expenses of a business, the customers of the business pay the taxes in the price of the products and services provided by the business.

    With all the money AirVenture brings to our state and the Oshkosh area in particular, I am surprised to learn that Oshkosh bills EAA for police service.

    • Joseph N. Greulich says

      I wonder how much they are paying for Police services, at air venture we were volunteers preforming security service with a police presences and it worked very well.

  30. Kent Misegades says

    Good points, Ben. I too see both sides of this – the FAA could have saved everyone a great deal of teeth gnashing by starting this process last year. No one really believes this as anything to do with the sequester, which was little more than political grand-standing by people who failed to do their job to reign in spending last year. What I also do not understand are the claims from past year that all of the Controllers working at AirVenture were volunteers. I know of no EAA volunteers who travel to AirVenture each year who get paid for their services. So, are the FAA Controllers “paid volunteers”?

    • Marc Lee Winnig says

      They volunteer to work at AirVenture (vs. being “drafted” or “assigned”.

      Another reason why I think most would be just fine with the “alternate” accommodations which I proposed in another message!

  31. says

    Could this be the first major step towards user fees for EXTRA controllers required for all special events at fields with control towers like Sun-n-Fun, Reno Air Races, etc. ? Obviously, the EAA had no choice. They surely weren’t going to cancel Air Venture. The very same thing can happen to other event organizers. In the end, it matters not how we feel. The FAA will make their own rules and we’d better get used to it unless our elected officials can cause a change as happened re all those tower closing plans. Just keep paying your EAA membership dues.

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