By Rep. Tom Petri
EAA's AirVenture brings more than 500,000 people from more than 70 countries and 10,000 planes to Oshkosh each year for the biggest general aviation event in the world, making Wittman Regional Airport the busiest airport in the world for that week. The event has huge positive economic effects for our region, bringing in tens of millions of dollars to local hotels, restaurants, and retail stores.
But after 60 years, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently informed EAA that it would no longer fund the cost of the additional air traffic controllers for the event and that these costs would now have to be reimbursed. This is a basic abdication of its responsibilities. The FAA exists to regulate air safety and direct air traffic. Directing the 20,000 air operations that will occur at Oshkosh that week is part of the basic core mission of the FAA. And this is their mission regardless of the reason for the air traffic.
The FAA cites the recent sequester as the reason for the change in policy. In fact, Congress recently passed legislation, which was signed by President Obama, to give the FAA flexibility in using the money it already has to fulfill its basic obligations.
The FAA is largely funded from aviation fuel taxes and taxes paid when airline tickets are purchased. And unfortunately, FAA only appears to be looking at its costs for staffing the event, ignoring completely the fact that general aviation pilots already pay fuel taxes that go into the Aviation Trust Fund to fund FAA operations and air traffic controllers; so in essence, these pilots will be paying for the same service twice. Pilots flying to and from Oshkosh dramatically enhance the coffers of the Trust Fund by hundreds of thousands of dollars -- revenues that would otherwise not be there if not for AirVenture. The FAA should consider these revenues in its decision as opposed to just the costs.
This move is nothing less than another attempt to impose user fees on general aviation -- something Congress has rejected numerous times. I question the authority the FAA has to impose these fees. In fact, the FAA has indicated it will be charging more such fees in the future, which should alarm all involved in aviation and the flying public. If the FAA can do this here, what is to stop them from charging the airlines for services now provided--costs that would be passed on to consumers. The larger issue is one Congress may have to look at in the future.
Recently, I sent a letter with several of my House colleagues -- including Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, fellow Wisconsin Representative Reid Ribble, and Rep. Sam Graves who is a pilot himself and attends AirVenture every year -- to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta urging him to reconsider the decision about EAA's AirVenture, especially given the agency's support for the event in the past. Our letter also clearly states our belief that directing air traffic at AirVenture is part of the core mission of FAA. Our Senators led a bipartisan group of 28 Senators in sending a similar letter.
AirVenture is the landmark event for general aviation and is known around the world for its unique and incredible display of innovation in flight. The FAA should reconsider its decision and fulfill its basic responsibility of ensuring air traffic safety at Oshkosh this summer.