EAA: ‘You’re absolutely right – it’s complicated’

By Dick Knapinski, EAA Communications

I had the opportunity to read your column regarding the AirVenture ATC fees being assessed by the FAA. You’re absolutely right – it’s complicated.

There are some significant differences in your comparison between the FAA and the Oshkosh Police Department, and other points to consider as well, however:

  • As some commenters mentioned, GA has already paid for FAA’s services through fuel taxes. You asked how EAA contributes to this. EAA is the single largest fuel purchaser at Wittman Regional Airport during AirVenture, with air show operations, Tri-Motor/helicopter flights, and more. Thus, EAA is contributing significantly to that fund along with other aviators at Oshkosh.
  • FAA exists, according to its mission, to provide a safe and effective air traffic system in the U.S. Therefore, its mission should be flexible enough to handle traffic where the airplanes are. If there is a multi-day peak in airline traffic in Chicago or Atlanta or LAX, the FAA merely schedules more personnel. It doesn’t raise the airline ticket tax or charge the airport more. In late July, the airplanes are in Oshkosh.
  • The FAA had budgeted for Oshkosh services and other aviation events in its 2013 budget. It was only the sequestration situation and its associated politics that changed the equation.
  • EAA and other Oshkosh events (it is known as Wisconsin’s Event City) do contribute to local police overtime. Other regular duties in and around the grounds are still handled as part of the Oshkosh police’s daily operations.
  • The city of Oshkosh recently created a new events permit process that increased costs for all events in the city. A major difference was that the city spent more than a year with stakeholders to work through problems and objections before the city council approved the new process, which included accountability for the city’s charges. This is completely unlike the FAA, which assessed the fees without warning, without a comment/review process and without the approval of Congress – and with no accountability procedure mentioned.
  • AirVenture certainly has a business aspect to it. It is GA’s largest annual marketplace. Exhibitors spend money to make money there. EAA also makes revenue from it (if it didn’t, EAA members would need to ask some other hard questions). But where does that money go? It goes back into programs, such as the SportAir Workshops, member and information services, government advocacy, and other areas that benefit members and aviation. Money paid to the FAA means less revenue to those programs.
  • This is about more than AirVenture. We’re certainly the most visible entity and face the largest bill, but what about events such as Arlington (which was also surprised with thousands of dollars in added fees this year) or other events that have reduced or curtailed their events because of these sudden FAA fees? Each one of those losses lessens our aviation community as a whole.

It is complicated, certainly. Yet it is also simple: General aviation has paid for these services. The FAA has arbitrarily decided to assess more, without permission from its bosses in Congress or any accountability for its charges. That is an ominous sign, not only for GA but for any entity that has a relationship with a federal government agency.


  1. Amanda says

    I agree with the content and many of the comments on this article, but one suggestion bothers me. Some people think the best option to ‘stick it’ to the FAA would be to cancel these events and let the FAA hurt for the tax money. But who would really be hurt? Definitely not the FAA. Only the people who are being forced to give up a favorite event, and everyone from the gas stations and restaurants that benefit from the airshows to the performers that rely on sponsorships and endorsements (no airshow, no visibility, no sponsorship) would feel the loss. As someone who lives in Wisconsin, the kind of boost Oshkosh brings can be felt far across the state, and other states and airports benefit as well. If we know one thing, government entities can always find another easy to get their money.
    Basically, the entire situation is a Catch-22 in that no solution will please everyone. But canceling airshows, which draw huge attention and interest to aviation, is
    solution that will please no one.

  2. Rick Scott says

    Once again the Obama administration is making it painful for the American public by using politics to get his way. We need to figure out the amount of fuel taxes pilots pay for fuel related to Air Venture and then ask the government for a rebate. We are tax paying citizens and we need to put pressure on our government about these issues and issues like Homeland Security randomly stopping flights and performing illegal searches. We need to get America back and get our government under control before it’s too late.

    • Mike Abrams says

      You have no idea of the costs to the FAA associated Oshkosh. The overtime at Chicago Center alone is more than $100,000.00. Add in the costs for Minneapolis center, briefers and everything else and $500,000.00 is a bargain.

  3. Daniel Dugan says

    An example of the impact of the FAA charging exorbitant fees for supporting airshows, like manning the tower at a Unicom only field, was the cancellation of the traditional Father’s Day weekend show at Columbia, CA. What a disappointment to a lot of people – both planned attendees and participants.

  4. Mike Abrams says

    I have a few revenue and cost figures that I’ve put together in the last few minutes. The total annual FAA budget before sequestration was about $15 billion. The amount reduced by sequestration is about $619 million, we are talking about big numbers. So, who puts in the $14-15 billion dollars. Your fuel tax on 100LL is 19.4 cents per gallon. If you are flying say from Dallas to Oshkosh in a C172 and you buy 100 gallons of fuel then your cost for fuel taxes round trip will be about $20.00. Are you getting more than $20.00 in FAA services in your trip–I bet you are and it’s maybe two or three times the value in services. Everyone wants the services but no one wants to pay for them. Think about it, someone was paying for all the services you are using and enjoying so the next time congress cuts the services remember how you didn’t pay for that so you lost it.

    • Bob Hicks says

      In a C172 I can leave Dallas area from a non-towered field and fly to OSH without using any FAA services until I am required to do soon arrival. That is one of the wonderful freedoms we have in aviation in the USA. My $20.00 in fuel tax is going to the OSH portion of the flight. Add up all the others that can do the same thing and some of that FAA fee for a (non-FAA) tower is covered.

      • Mike Abrams says

        You are obviously not aware of all the services you receive from the FAA! Where do you get your briefings, do you fly IFR, do you get advisory service. Do the airports you land at have lighting. Even if you don’t use those services the other aircraft around you do and ATC is probably keeping those pilots aware of you as traffic. They supervise the MD’s that give you medicals. The list goes on and on. It’s a part of everything you do as a pilot. Congress removed $619 million dollars from the FAA budget which you might have rejoiced for, now the bill come due–someone has to pay for these services and your fuel tax doesn’t do it.

  5. Colin says

    I say that we just refuse to pay the fuel tax on all the fuel sold at the event. Use that money then to fund the purchase of off duty controllers or retired controllers. If they want to play ball, then lets play ball. I bet the Supreme Court (because you know there would be a lawsuit) would side with us. If they did not, then we have lost the country to politicians and we get what we deserve.

  6. Carl says

    Oshkosh is a contract tower. It should be up to the contractor to arrange for extra contract controllers as they do on a regular basis as personnel needs change. EAA and the contractor can just “disinvite” the FAA from horning in on their territory.

  7. says

    EAA should have cancelled AirVenture, period. Giving into extortion is a bad idea. If cutting back programs and staff was the result, so be it.

    As many commenters to the original article opined, AirVenture has subsumed the EAA and the “convention” has become the raison d’etre of the organization as well as an over-hyped glitzy, aviation-themed version of Christmas: an occasion whose true meaning is lost.

    I am one of those who have decided that EAA’s goals and values and my own no longer coincide and I have therefore decided not to renew my membership.

  8. Ray DeForge says

    what a waste of time…………..

    cancel these events and show these people exactly what kind of economic impact we actually do have.

  9. Dave says

    Here are a couple figures regarding the Fuel tax nobody calculate (Source Wikipedia):

    “As of 2011[update], aviation gasoline (most often used to fuel small General Aviation aircraft) is taxed at 19.4¢/gal. (www.irs.gov/publications/p510/ch01.html#d0e825)

    As of 2007, jet fuel (called “kerosene for aviation” by the IRS) is taxed at 21.9¢/gal unless it is used for commercial aviation (airlines such as American Airlines and US Airways and small chartered commercial jets). Because such commercial operations are subject to the federal transportation tax, they are subject to a reduced fuel tax of 4.4¢/gal.

    These taxes mainly fund airport and Air Traffic Control operations by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), of which commercial aviation is the biggest user.”

    On top of that are state fuel taxes (not part of the GA fuel tax).
    It shouldn’t be too difficult to calculate how much fuel taxes are paid by people flying to/from Airventure, or who are consuming it at the airshows and other flying activities. It would, however, require input from a proper sampling of pilots and aircraft. By using that sampling, an estimate with a low margin of error could be claculated without having every aircraft input into the calculation. A good statistitian and large enough sampling could make a close estimate. EAA would be well advised to make an accurate estimate.

  10. Vince Massimini says

    The “we pay fuel tax” argument is really a red herring. The fuel tax paid by GA does not even fund the Flight Service Stations, much less anything like Oshkosh.

    The real problem with the FAA’s demand is that the FAA does not have authority to charge users fees, except in some specialized areas. Just hitting EAA with $500K in fees for Oshkosh is likely not a fee that the FAA can legally charge. This is one of the main points in the lawsuit against the FAA over this issue.

    So if EAA needs to pay fees for the extra Oshkosh controllers, then ok. But, as the article above says, let it be a process that is done with the users and not a knee-jerk.


    Vince Massimini
    Kentmorr Airpark, MD (3W3)

  11. Michael Cline says

    Simply put and without reading the other posts, there are many, especially the Obama administration and even others not associated with the administration, feel that aviation is only for a select few. They do not realize how GA and the airlines contribute to our entire nation as a whole.

  12. Joseph N. Greulich says

    Why don’t we/EAA put together a team of selected retired experienced air controllers as volunteers to run the air controller function at these special operations !

  13. says

    As a long time member, I applaud the EAA’s stance on this issue. Yes the FAA is funded through our tax dollars – an “inconvenient truth” that government would rather not discuss.

    I’m afraid that the other issue here is that like it or not, general aviation has become a political issue – after all, we all know that pilots are all rich don’t we? Therefore all pilots are part of that 1% the current administration is after to pay their fair share of taxes.

    Add to that that the FAA has long ago, long ago… become an unmanageable bureaucracy unable to stay within a budget, bring any project in on time and within budget, yet is completely unaccountable, and you come up with this bazaar government funding model.

    My definition of a bureaucracy, by the way, is when a public agency, such as the FAA, is formed to support the people, then becomes self focused and installs barriers to insure that it is isolated from the very public it was designed to serve. That, in my opinion, describes most government agencies and explains the FAA’s new “we know you already pay but pays us some more” funding model.

    It is time for the aviation community to organize and stand up against this unacceptable government conduct. The EAA, AOPA, NBAA, etc, all need to join forces to send a strong message to Washington that we have had enough. We pay our way and we expect the services we pay for to available to all who fund them.

    • Kent Misegades says

      Good points. I would argue that our own aviation alphabets, with few exceptions, have also become self-servicing lobbies, more interested in preserving generous salaries and benefit packages than truly working on behalf of dues-paying members.

  14. says

    Accountability is always a good word, in any situation, and especially this one dealing with the Federal government. I believe this is a very dangerous precedent being set for anyone having a relationship with the Federal government, which means all of us.

    It appears as extortion and double taxation. The event/service has been budgeted for [paid for already] and yet, additional fees charged and collected on top of that. Obviously, this action can apply in any sector the Federal Government affects. What a grand opportunity, eh?

    I too agree with the theory of discovering the amount of fuel tax collected by flights too/from AirVenture and also during the event itself. That would certainly help with accountability! Question for me though, how the heck could this be done? Possibly each pilot flying to/from/during AirVenture, fill out a form during the event stating fuel amounts purchased for the event? Those traveling via commercial air service, list their departure/return point via air carrier? I would personally be happy to do this.

    Overall, to me, the most important words in Dick Knapinzki’s article, and at the heart of this entire situation is “The FAA has arbitrarily decided to assess more, without permission from its bosses in Congress or any accountability for its charges. That is an ominous sign, not only for GA but for any entity that has a relationship with a federal government agency.”

    Mitch Latting

  15. says

    And where does it end? From the perspective of the air show industry, this effort by the FAA could set a precedent that imposes severe hardship on our industry for many years to come. If the FAA discovers that it can impose fees in this manner, will it begin to charge air shows to process an air show waiver request? To process a Statement of Aerobatic Competency? Will it charge for the time that flight standards inspectors or airworthiness inspectors spend at an air show? How does a show budget for these expenses? Who decides how many inspectors are enough?

    Not to mention the precedent it sets for the rest of general aviation. Will the FAA begin imposing additional fees for processes or services that have not required an additional fee in the past?

    We all owe a debt of gratitude to EAA for initiating this battle on our collective behalf. The thing to do now is to support them in this effort in every way possible.

  16. Rich says

    Well, put.

    This is extortion , pure and simple.

    Pilots pay their way already.
    The AIP was sold to pilots as a way to fund airport improvement projects.
    But of course the FAA diverted funds to pay for controllers.
    That money will never be recouped and airport projects will suffer.
    I think we already got robbed once.

  17. Kent Misegades says

    Dick is one of the good guys at the EAA who survived the Hightower purge. The sequester was all about politics and poor leadership in our federal government. The Feds could have instead shut down thousands of useless, feel-good programs to lower cost, but those chose instead to target things that the public would notice. A suggestion for the EAA – why not take over operation of the tower completely and cut the Feds out of the issue forever? There are plenty of private Controllers out there who’d probably be happy to do the job. Then call on true, unpaid volunteers to staff up during AirVenture? You have literally thousands of other volunteers who perform equally critical tasks at AirVenture. Get the Feds out of the picture and these things will never happen again.

    • Ray DeForge says

      I’m a retired Navy Air Traffic Controller with a CTO from KNJK. I would be happy to volunteer in any area of air traffic management. There’s just one problem – the FAA.

      OSH is a “Controlled Airport” – it has a tower, an FAA tower (even though it is normally manned by contract controllers). One just cannot arbitrarily “kidnap” the tower and take over air traffic management. A person could go to jail for that; for, the FAA has the power to regulate (and waive regulations), and such regulations carry the full weight of Law.

      Arlington; however, is a different situation. It is an “Uncontrolled Airport” (no tower) that has a temporary tower in operation only during the fly-in. Unless the FAA demands (read: “regulates”) that a control tower environment be present during the event, then such a “service” need not be present. But; then again, it is the FAA in its all powerful whim that can “extort” the aviation community – or can they (?).

      I would suggest the only “power” we have is to cancel these events – ALL OF THEM; and save the time, money and effort required. After a few years, they might get the message that us so-called “rich” pilots DO contribute significantly to these local economies, and to the Nation as a whole.

      The question is – do we have the united “internal fortitude” to do this? Or have we become “economic slaves” to a system that seems unstoppable? Only time will tell.

      • says

        I too am a retired USMC Controller and very involved with the Copperstate Fly In every October. Currently it is held at the Casa Grande Municipal Airport which is outside Class B airspace and does not have a tower. Up to this year the FAA manned a temporary tower that we supplied, including radios, power, etc. Controllers loved to work the event. Now we are being held up. The “new” guy in charge wants more than $1,000 per controller per day, FAA supplied tower and lots more. Our event costs about $100,000 each year and we normally gain a little or lose a little (break even). Not if we have to pay the FAA for their robbery! Copperstate is an all volunteer event – meaning nobody who works the event in any capacity except FAA ATC is paid anything. The three day event draws abut 500 AC and 5-7,000 visitors. So, looks like we will not have the tower this year and forgo such helpful things as reduced separation procedures, NOTAM and so much more. It is very sad situation and one that speaks volumes about our government and the loss of freedom for this country. ONE HAS TO WONDER WHY THOSE WHOSE NAME APPEARS ON THE VIET NAM WALL BOTHERED TO DIE FOR FREEDOM! OR, FOR THAT MATTER THOSE WHO HAVE DIED OR BEEN WOUNDED IN ANY OF OUR NATIONS WARS – MANY OF WHICH WERE FOR NOTHING MORE THAN POLITICAL GAIN. I CRY FOR THIS NATION.

  18. Gill Wright says

    It seems to me that one method to help EAA keep the FAA accountable to the cost factor of ATC services for AirVenture, would be a calculation of the aggregate fuel consumed by all of the aircraft that fly to AirVenture from around the country, if not the world. In knowing the # of gallons of 100LL and JetA burned for the 10,000+ aircraft flying to AirVenture, will give a very quick calculation of the fuel taxes collected from the annual pilgrimage to KOSH. I suspect these fuel taxes collected from such a perspective would demonstrate the efficiency of the fuel tax system, and show that these collected fuel taxes are significantly in excess of the recent “NEW” charges by the FAA for ATC services to EAA. The truth is very simple, let’s keep it that way.

    • Chris says

      I agree with this. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t support the FAA action, but I keep hearing about the fuel tax but never see a single figure. Why don’t we hear of an estimated fuel tax revenue from the Oshkosh event, including people flying there?

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