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EAA Will Pay For Controllers If It Must

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Faced with an ultimatum from the FAA, EAA Chairman Jack Pelton says his organization will pay the $500,000 fee requested by the FAA if that's the only way to guarantee that EAA's AirVenture 2013 is fully staffed regarding air traffic controllers. According to Pelton, the FAA's negotiations amounted to a demand for the funds and a signed contract to provide the controllers or the annual convention that creates the "world's busiest control tower" would be left without air traffic control. The agency must make $384 million in cuts by Sept. 30 as arranged by governmental wrangling known as the sequester. If EAA does foot the bill, it won't be the first major airshow this year to pay to have air traffic controllers on hand. Many pilots and some senators are upset by the move, which they're calling a new user fee.

Funding for controllers at the six-day Sun 'n Fun airshow held this past April at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, Fla., was met in part by $125,000 donated by Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing corporation. Sun 'n Fun estimated the total bill at $285,000. AirVenture is a larger show and Pelton has reached out to Wisconsin senators for help. The senators have worked to organize support in opposition to the FAA's actions and have co-signed with at least 27 other senators a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. The letter notes that pilots and airshows pay fuel taxes in support of the services they receive and those taxes have not diminished. "This shift in policy by the FAA to charge fees for air traffic services is tantamount to an imposition of a new user fee on general aviation," the letter states. Smaller airshows may be asked to pay for additional staffing, too. While those bills would be smaller, they may still be prohibitive for organizations working with fewer resources than EAA and Wisconsin.

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