AirVenture Controllers: To Pay or Not to Pay


Over the weekend, I spent some time reviewing our poll last week asking, in a time of budget cutbacks, whether EAA should be expected to cover the FAA’s costs of staffing the tower and arrivals during AirVenture this year. A strong majority, almost 60 percent, think the FAA should shoulder the bill, while 22 percent think it should be on EAA’s dime. Our poll found mild support for splitting the cost or phasing it into EAA’s budget over a few years.As consumers of the news, most of us lack even the most basic information to form an intelligent opinion on this, I’m afraid. We don’t have a refined sense of budget choices the FAA makes. So we judge it either emotionally or ideologically. As a friend of mine pointed out, we don’t have the first clue how and why the FAA actually decided to stick EAA with the bill. Is it an honest budgeting decision and a bona fide effort to save money? Or is it just another opaque attempt to screw the flying public for political gain and future budget leverage? I’m assuming it’s a little of both.But I do notice one thing: As a group, aviation interests are reading line-for-line from the larger American script where it has become not just acceptable but expected that we’ll demand services and no diminution thereof without any increase in taxes or service fees. Yes, I’ve heard the argument that we have paid for and are already paying for services like additional staffing at AirVenture. Maybe. But I haven’t seen a convincing P&L to support this claim.Consider where we are six months into the year. The FAA’s attempt to save money by closing some towers was summarily shutdown by the Congress and given the low traffic counts at some of these towers, we can reasonably assume that pork not safety animated that outcome. And now the AirVenture issue is on the block, we’re insisting-at least about two thirds of us are-that the FAA can’t save money that way, either. And still, the alphabets agitate against user fees and argue that the FAA backcharging for controllers at AirVenture opens the door to that. I don’t buy it.So that puts me in, if not in the 22 percent, perhaps the 9 percent calling for phased in costs or cost splitting in the coming years. I agree that it’s unfair for the FAA to spring this on EAA within a few months of AirVenture. To me, that stinks of pure politics and it’s just poor stewardship of public resources. In a time of reduced budgets, we shouldn’t be too surprised.Speaking of the public, why is AirVenture so damned important, anyway? It’s because AirVenture is two things: it’s a significant economic engine for the global aviation industry where deals are made, airplanes are sold and ideas baked. It’s also-let’s face it-aviation’s big annual party. We can easily dismiss the party part, but the industry depends on the economic engine of AirVenture and in my view, that justifies some FAA expenditure on it. But all of it? That may be a hard sell and one of these days, everyone-including those of us in aviation-will face some hard choices that we seem incapable of making. This is just the first of many.