Any chance for a rapprochement between the EAA and FAA over the latter’s imposition of more than $450,000 in air traffic control fees on this year’s AirVenture appears unlikely.
EAA chairman Jack Pelton showed up at his Monday news conference at EAA Airventure in Oshkosh, Wis., sporting a button reading “It’s Not Over,” a clear reference to the EAA’s pending federal court challenge of the FAA fees, and Pelton was more than willing to dish more inside poker on the FAA’s last-minute demands for compensation, which he now says were closer to $600,000 before being negotiated down “under protest.”
Other than controllers and their supervisors, FAA officials are conspicuously absent from this year’s AirVenture, allegedly because of federal budget sequestration. Pelton is still fuming over the topic and has enlisted U.S. senator, pilot, and long-time EAA member James Inhofe (R-OK) to broach the topic with incoming U.S. transportation secretary Anthony Foxx.
Pelton did not think that language inserted into the FY2014 FAA budget appropriations in the House of Representatives, prohibiting the FAA from imposing user fees without a congressional mandate, would shield AirVenture and other airshows from more FAA fees in the future.
“Ours is more of a contract-for-services fee. It really doesn’t fall under the same bite,” he said.
Pelton compared the FAA’s action to a hypothetical situation of a government turning a public road into a tollway with no notice to offset a budget shortfall.
Pelton was sanguine about the public relations repair job EAA had to do this year with its AirVenture volunteers in the aftermath of his predecessor. Previously, “We didn’t communicate with them, we didn’t make them feel welcome, we took away some very simple perks for them. So we spent months getting them re-engaged and wanting to be part of this event,” Pelton said.
The military’s absence, another consequence of the federal budget sequester, should not adversely affect the quality of this year’s airshow, Pelton said. However, he did note that in past years the Wisconsin Air National Guard had brought aircraft tugs and provided an important service in helping to safely move show aircraft from display areas to the flight line. That service, he said, would be missed.
Pelton said the EAA is not actively conducting a search for a new president. His term as chairman is for three years.