EAA and FAA reach air traffic controller agreement

OSHKOSH – A financial fight between EAA and the FAA is over, for now. The Experimental Aircraft Association and the Federal Aviation Administration signed a nine-year agreement to keep the air traffic control tower staffed during AirVenture, at a price.

AirVenture would not be possible without dozens of extra air traffic controllers. This agreement with the FAA ensures the funding for the positions through 2022.

“It really brings that continuity and our ability to plan for AirVenture each year,” said EAA communications director Dick Knapinski.

Last year the FAA charged EAA almost half a million dollars for control tower staff and equipment, citing budget cuts. The bill arrived about 70 days before the start of AirVenture.

“Under duress we did sign an agreement just to keep the show going,” Knapinski explained.

“We thought that their method of how they went about asking for us to augment their budget was not appropriate and we filed a lawsuit,” continued EAA board president Jack Pelton.

Under this agreement that lawsuit was dropped.

But this is far from a win for EAA.

While the FAA will pay for air traffic controller salaries during AirVenture, EAA will still have to pay for things like their travel costs and overtime.

“They have to sit down with us and we assess the amount of support, areas that we can try to control costs and not have it be an open-ended checking account,” Pelton explained.

Even so, the bill could come close to that nearly half a million dollars that was paid last year.

“That’s a very big cost, but for AirVenture it’s one of those costs of doing business that will have to be built into the budget,” stated Knapinski.

There are a few ways out of the contract.

“Allows EAA to move on from that agreement if a better offer comes along, or if there is a legislative solution,” Knapinski explained.

EAA has looked into hiring private air traffic controllers, but hasn’t yet found a better deal.

Through a statement, the FAA said it is happy with the deal, saying “The agreement is consistent with FAA policy that requires operators to reimburse the FAA for some of the costs incurred in sending controllers, technicians and equipment in support of special events that draw a significant increase in air traffic, such as air shows, and sporting events.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Petri said he still questions the FAA’s authority to charge for air show costs, but said the settlement provides certainty that AirVenture will continue.

AirVenture 2014 runs from July 28-Aug. 3 in Oshkosh.

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