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EAA Action Heads Off Tower Charge For Michigan Aviation Event

First User Fee Headed Off?

May 9, 2006 — EAA has again intervened on behalf of the Western Michigan Fly-In to ensure FAA provides temporary air traffic control services for their June 24 event at Padgham Field in Allegan, (35D).

If this sounds familiar, it should; last year an administrative snafu abruptly canceled the approved tower a week before the event before EAA action had it reinstated.

This year fly-in officials were informed that they would be charged $3,200 to set up and operate the tower for the one-day event. To EAAer Andy Millin, member of the airport's advisory board who arranges for the fly-in's tower each year, the proposed charge sure sounded like the first implementation of user fees, and a hefty one at that.

"This turned out to be a whole lot more about pilots, the FAA, and user fees than it was about a regional airport holding a fly-in and wanting a temporary control tower," he said. "When you're in the air with that many airplanes, you need to have a tower. We really felt like we were trapped between a rock and a hard place; we could not safely hold the event without a tower."

EAA Government Relations Director Randy Hansen went to work on the issue, and within one business day had received assurances that a temporary tower and the controllers would be provided as part of FAA's normal services with no charges to the fly-in.

"I talked with Nancy Kort (area terminal operations manager at the FAA Great Lakes Regional Office) and Dave Ausherman (Acting Manager, Airspace and Procedures Branch Central Terminal Operations), and we jointly resolved the issue," Hansen said. "The FAA fully realizes that the fly-in is a non-profit event designed to promote the airport and its activities to the local community, and that they don't charge community members a fee to enter the airport grounds for the fly-in."

EAA strongly opposes user fees as a funding mechanism for any air traffic control services. Temporary towers are authorized "to provide for the safe ingress and egress for the aircraft involved and for maximizing flight and ground safety for the users and the spectators." At peak times during past events, Allegan Airport experienced up to 60 operations per hour, with as many as 300 Young Eagles flights throughout the day.

"We had quite a bit of feedback from other fly-ins, people concerned about this ever happening to them," said Millin, who added that 35D becomes Michigan's busiest airport during their fly-in. "From the pilot side, many responded angrily that we would ever capitulate and pay the fee. They would rather have us not have the tower because they didn't want anyone paying the first user fee.

"I can understand that, and I respect their position, but we feel that a tower is needed for our event given the high volume of traffic that occurs. We have to be safe." Millin claims that Allegan is the state's busiest airport during the fly-in.

As word spread of the situation, people and companies stepped up and pledged donations to help cover the tower charges should they have been upheld. By Monday afternoon, Millin said they had received pledges to cover about 90 percent of the $3,200.

"But if we had paid this much this year, how much was it going to be next year? What other things are we going to be paying for? Nobody liked the direction this was going," he said. "Randy won for us today, but I don't have that good feeling that everything is going to be 'hunky-dory' for us next year. We've held them at bay for a little while, and if it's not us next year, who is it going to be?

"I'm just grateful that EAA was there for this and helped us out the way they did. I should have called EAA right away."

In addition to its ongoing local efforts, EAA continues to work with FAA at the national level with FAA air traffic to ensure future policies are adequate for coverage of these safety-critical regional and national events.

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