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More on EAA/FAA Agreement for AirVenture ATC Services


Why did EAA do this?
In short, to create long-term stability for EAA and the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh® event. Without a long-term agreement, there would have been no assurance that EAA would have had the necessary air traffic control services for AirVenture's extremely high volume of aircraft operations. The FAA is not legally obligated to provide special ATC services for AirVenture. Further, if the FAA did choose to offer ATC services, they would have been able to charge whatever they wished, meaning that there could be unknown and wildly fluctuating charges on EAA each year. That made no sense if we were to wisely safeguard the financial side of the EAA members' organization.

The long-term stability of EAA and the AirVenture event was the top priority. Continuing annual uncertainty about FAA ATC services and fees would not have been tolerable. It's not the best possible result, but it's the best available one.

What exactly is the agreement between EAA and FAA regarding ATC services at AirVenture?
The full 2014 Reimbursable Agreement is available here. Here is a summary: The FAA will provide the necessary and appropriate ATC services to support AirVenture in the years 2014 through 2022, generally the same as those provided in the past. The FAA will charge EAA its actual cost for the same elements that were charged for in 2013: travel; backfill overtime (for FAA personnel who fill in for the controllers and others who have come to Oshkosh); supplies; and overhead; all at FAA's standard rates. EAA and the FAA will jointly use their best efforts to reduce ATC costs without compromising safety. The FAA will provide EAA with a detailed estimate of its staffing and costs each year with an opportunity for EAA to comment in advance. EAA will always have the benefit of any favorable change in FAA policy regarding charges for ATC services for special aviation events.

What does this mean for EAA's court action against the FAA?
As part of the settlement agreement, EAA's petition regarding the FAA's legal right to charge for ATC services will be dismissed with prejudice, meaning legal action by EAA in this matter cannot be filed again.

Why come to an agreement after being so adamant last summer about this assessment for ATC services?
Year-to-year uncertainty on FAA charges, as well as uncertainty in granting the essential waivers for AirVenture and access to ATC services, would have been disastrous for AirVenture, EAA, and the general aviation community. Long-term stability is the ultimate goal.

Why is the FAA picking on AirVenture and Sun 'n Fun?
The FAA has charged for special operations for such events as the Super Bowl, The Masters, and NASCAR races in individual situations. AOPA and NBAA have also paid for extraordinary air traffic services at their annual events for a number of years.

Why did the FAA let the NFL get away with no charges for the Super Bowl? That doesn't seem fair.
We asked the FAA directly about that, especially based on FAA and other news releases prior to the game that portrayed a massive effort needed for air traffic control services. Despite the dramatic news releases, it turned out that the FAA absorbed a relatively small amount of local overtime costs for the 2014 Super Bowl. The personnel and equipment needed for the scale of special services in the New York-Teterboro air space was completely different from those at AirVenture in Oshkosh, and for that matter at less densely populated venues for the Super Bowl (where the FAA does charge for special services). The FAA had the equipment and personnel already within the region for the game in February.

This just brings us closer to user fees for GA, doesn't it?
No. Congress has been very direct with the FAA on this matter. User fees are still prohibited for general aviation. The FAA treats these ATC charges as a separate category - covering a special event that has special needs. EAA and other GA organizations will continue to fight any attempt to levy user fees on individual GA operations.

Why didn't EAA go to Congress for help?
We did. We received considerable support for our cause from many individual lawmakers, which we truly appreciate. Hundreds of EAA members also contacted their representatives about the matter. However, we also received an honest assessment from lawmakers on the slim chances that any specific legislation eliminating these type of FAA fees would pass Congress, as well as the time frame such legislation would take even if it would be successful.

Why not just cancel AirVenture in protest?
AirVenture is vital to EAA and to general aviation. It would not make any sense to severely harm ourselves by cancelling our convention as a protest, and it would have had absolutely no effect on the FAA's position. The agency would have simply moved on. All that a "taking our ball and going to stand angrily in a corner" cancellation would accomplish would be to eliminate general aviation's biggest gathering and event, hurt general aviation, the businesses involved in it, and EAA as an organization.

What will this mean for the cost of AirVenture for the average EAA member?
This cost, as with costs for insurance, sanitation, security, and other needs will be built into the event's annual budget. What this agreement does is give EAA a predictable, stable estimation of the costs for nine years to come, so they can be planned. We are going to make every effort to ensure that the impact is minimal on AirVenture costs, and to make sure that proceeds of AirVenture continue to help fund the year-round programs that EAA chapters, members, homebuilders and aviation enthusiasts depend upon.

I don't want one cent of my EAA dues or AirVenture admissions going to the FAA to pay for this. How are you going to manage that?
EAA member dues won't pay the FAA for air traffic services. The AirVenture budget is completely outside that which is funded by annual dues. Any ATC costs will be assumed as other current costs - from sanitation and signs to local security city services - are included in the event's annual budget.

Where were the other GA groups in this fight?
We are extremely grateful for the support of ICAS and HAI in filing amicus briefs supporting EAA's petition. The other GA associations may have had their own individual positions on the matter, which they would have to communicate directly.

What about getting retired, military or volunteer controllers?
That option was thoroughly considered, and we appreciate those who stepped forward to offer their services. However, after investigation, EAA believed that creating a separate controller corps for 2014 would not be feasible if we were to maintain the highest level of safety for the unique challenges of AirVenture. If a private/contractor solution evolves in the future, we still have the option to terminate the Reimbursable Agreement with the FAA, and they have committed to providing their full support for the new program.

Why not simply run an uncontrolled field, similar to what the Copperstate Fly-In did last fall with good success?
We congratulate Copperstate and other events that decided to go on their own as uncontrolled fields for their events. However, Wittman Regional Airport is already a controlled field throughout the year and could not be made an uncontrolled field for a single week. Also, the operations at Oshkosh are many times larger and more complex than those at Copperstate or similar fly-ins.

What about using contract tower services, as Oshkosh has the rest of the year?
That option was immediately considered, going so far as to ask for cost estimates from the private control tower companies. Three problems became apparent: 1) It was not certain that any of the contract tower companies, or even a combination of all of them, could supply the manpower needed at Oshkosh while still continuing their regular operations; 2) It didn't appear that we could manage the steep Oshkosh ATC learning curve in the available time; and 3) The costs would likely have been higher than what EAA would be assessed by the FAA for similar services. There was also no guarantee that the FAA would approve such a plan or provide the necessary waivers and other support.

Did EAA feel that they had a losing case, so they had to settle?
Quite the opposite - we felt that EAA's case was very strong. However, other factors that we have discussed made the case for a settlement compelling. For instance, even if EAA had completely prevailed in the court petition, the courts would not mandate FAA-provided ATC services at the level required for the Oshkosh event.

Can EAA raise the same issues again in another court case?
EAA has agreed that it will not re-file the Petition, file an amicus brief in a similar case, nor provide funding for a case filed by any other party, for the term of the 2104 Reimbursable Agreement, through 2022.

Could another organization now litigate the same issues with the FAA?
Yes, it could.

Has the FAA made a commitment to provide both ATC services and the necessary waivers, so that EAA will have certainty for AirVenture for the entire agreement period?
Yes, it has. That was a non-negotiable part of any agreement. 

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