Jack Pelton, chairman of the board of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and its acting president, is leading the organization in unusual times that are punctuated by sequestration and continued anemic interest in aviation by younger generations.
This summer at the organization’s annual EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, EAA had to pay the FAA $470,000 for the services of air traffic controllers. In AirVenture’s 60-year history, it had never before been billed by the FAA.
“When we looked at AirVenture last summer, we wanted to make sure we had a good event, that it was safe and had the right features,” he told AIN at NBAA 2013. Because of sequestration, active military aircraft could not participate at Oshkosh, he said, but “we found we could get enough warbirds and general aviation airplanes to make it a fun event.”
After Oshkosh EAA filed a lawsuit based on its contention that funding for the FAA comes from the General Fund and the Aviation Trust Fund, which is paid for by fuel taxes. “So the revenue stream that funds the system comes from all the folks who fly to AirVenture,” Pelton explained. “To have a separate fee to cover those services, we don’t believe is in the FAA’s purview.”
He said EAA does not expect to get any resolution to the lawsuit for some time, “so we have to make the assumption for next year that we’re going to have to pay.” EAA’s position is that the FAA is funded through an authorization of Congress and this is not discretionary. So the FAA cannot go outside the funding process and charge for its services. “We think this is a good position, but we obviously don’t know how this will turn out.”
While EAA is looking at how to mitigate the dollar amount, officials are considering other ways to provide air traffic services at AirVenture 2014. “We’re looking at private ATC services and we have a lot of EAA members who are controllers. We want to find a way we do this safely so that the show can to go on. It will go on,” Pelton clarified, “it’s just a question how much it will cost.”
Regarding increasing interest in aviation among young people, he said, “We’re asking ourselves, are we offering the right programs to help do this? There is also a renewed interest between EAA and AOPA to do more collaboration on this and other subjects. AOPA cancelled its annual summit and will participate more at Oshkosh. We’re going to participate more in the regional events AOPA has been talking about. We’re asking, where can we best allocate our resources? We’re having these discussions, which is really encouraging.”
There is no “grand, higher level plan” on how to increase interest in aviation, he said. “We’re going to do the crawl-walk-run to see where it goes and be more aware of how we can all work together.”