WASHINGTON, D.C. — Each year the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture Oshkosh attracts more aircraft, pilots, and aviation enthusiasts than any other aviation gathering in the United States, but this year EAA is facing paying the FAA an estimated $500,000 for doing its job.
Payment is necessary, say FAA officials, because sequester has cut off necessary funds.
About 80 government personnel are used at Oshkosh each year, including 55 controllers, 10 supervisors, and 15 others with assorted duties.
“We’re not looking for a government handout,” says EAA spokesman Dick Knapinski, “just what the government has already budgeted for. General aviation pays its fair share of fuel taxes and this is like adding another tax.”
He cites as a comparison paying property taxes and then getting a $5 bill each time your child rides the school bus.
The FAA had already budgeted for the Oshkosh event, causing many to wonder why the call at this time for the fee for service. Perhaps it is a move to gain attention by taking the most popular events to get public opposition to sequester as well as the President’s call for a $100-per-flight fee for some flights for the “fat cats” who can use general aviation.
EAA is getting help from members of Congress. Both houses of Congress are opposing the FAA’s move. Reps. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) are examples.
Congress recently gave the FAA authority to transfer funds from various accounts in the budget. FAA used this authority to keep controllers on the job after earlier threats to have mandatory furloughs.
About 19,000 pilots responded to EAA’s call to contact their senators to urge them to co-sign a bipartisan letter to the FAA administrator urging a stop to charging for services at aviation events.
On June 6, a letter signed by 28 senators was sent to the FAA administrator saying the proposed service fee is tantamount to the imposition of a user fee on general aviation. It reminded the FAA that Congress had previously made clear its opposition to user fees. The senators point out to the FAA that about 10,000 aircraft come to the EAA event from all parts of the country and the gathering is a big boost to the economy.
An imposition of a new fee for government services sets a dangerous precedent for other aviation activities, but even more alarming is how such a move can be used for a myriad of government services beyond aviation. If government can add “service charges” for providing services of one kind to an individual or organization, similarly user fees can be charged by other agencies for other services and activities.
There is time for the FAA to alter its position on this fee. If it does not and EAA must shell out a half million dollars for controllers, the organization says it will not increase its prices during next month’s AirVenture.