June 6, 2013 - Calling the FAA's move "completely unacceptable," a bipartisan group of 28 U.S. senators today delivered a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, strongly urging the agency to reconsider its unilateral decision to assess fees for air traffic and other services at general aviation events, including EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.
EAA had been surprised in mid-May with demands for a signed contract and a nearly $500,000 payment for expenses associated with air traffic costs at Oshkosh. Upon learning of the assessments on AirVenture and other aviation events, congressional representatives were alarmed at the FAA's imposition of new policy that wavered from the agency's mission of providing safe and effective air traffic services.
The Senate's letter to Administrator Huerta stated that charging fees for air traffic services is "tantamount to an imposition of a new user fee on general aviation. Through the appropriations process, Congress has previously made clear its opposition to new user fees." The letter further states, "The FAA was the only federal agency to be given flexibility in addressing the impacts of sequestration. As such, for the FAA to demand additional payments for items that have been budgeted for in previous years is completely unacceptable."
EAA Chairman Jack Pelton said the response from the Senate was very gratifying in support of aviation. More than 19,000 letters and e-mails from EAA members and aviators throughout the U.S. were sent to the Senate in a 48-hour period encouraging senators to sign the letter to FAA.
"AirVenture and other aviation events are being held hostage in large part because of the FAA's decisions, as the agency would not supply the necessary personnel or approvals to events unless they signed the FAA's contract and paid the bill in advance," Pelton said. "Members of Congress from both parties saw this for what it is - a user fee on general aviation - and have stepped forward in opposition."
Along with the quick efforts of EAA members in responding, Pelton specifically praised the efforts from the office of Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), which authored the draft letter, and bipartisan support of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) in gathering supporters. In addition, Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI) provided valuable support from the House side and guidance in making the bipartisan effort possible.
The letter also noted the importance of AirVenture not only to Wisconsin's economy, but also to the aviation industry, including the more than 600 U.S. companies that exhibit and do business at Oshkosh each year.