CASA GRANDE, Arizona — Each October, pilots arriving for the Copperstate Fly-In at the Casa Grande Municipal Airport (CGZ) have been greeted by an enthusiastic crew of FAA air traffic controllers, drawn from facilities throughout the western United States, all proud to have been selected to staff the temporary Copperstate Control Tower. This year, however, things will be different.
While both management and controllers from the air traffic control facilities involved are eager to support this year’s fly-in, slated for Oct. 24-26, the FAA’s implementation of a user fee structure to fund such operations has dictated otherwise, Copperstate officials said.
For the first time in the 40-year history of the event, Copperstate organizers would be required to pay a user fee, of many thousands of dollars, to cover controller salaries, overtime, travel and other expenses. To add insult to injury, the FAA also declared the military surplus control tower that Copperstate has provided for the past 10 years (and which has worked flawlessly, unlike the FAA tower used previously) to be unsuitable for controller use, organizers note. Of course, the cost of the FAA-mandated portable control tower, and the technical staff to support it, would be added to the bill, officials added.
As a totally volunteer, non-profit, 501(c)3 organization, Copperstate takes great pride in running a “lean and mean” operation, maximizing the funds available to fulfill its mission of providing scholarship programs for young men and women seeking careers in the aerospace industry. While the FAA has never provided a firm quote of the costs demanded for this year’s temporary tower — despite numerous requests that they do so — off-the-record estimates and a perusal of reimbursable agreements paid by similar events make it clear that payment cannot be made without severely compromising, if not eliminating, the scholarship programs.
Fortunately, there is an alternative: Casa Grande Municipal Airport is a non-towered airport — and it will simply remain so during the fly-in. While traffic volume is expected to be high, a safe environment for air operations can be maintained by eliminating the operational complexity of previous years, which was primarily due to the use of special traffic patterns for local flights (passenger rides, factory demos, showcase, etc.). During this year’s event, these special traffic patterns have been eliminated, and all pilots will follow standard recommended practices for operations at non-towered airports.
While Copperstate’s usual Notice To Airmen (NOTAM) will disappear along with the tower, much of the fly-in information previously provided by the NOTAM can now be found in a Notice To Pilots, published on the Copperstate website. This information is provided as a courtesy to pilots, who are reminded that all operations during the event are at the pilot’s own risk and discretion, organizers said.