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Mon, Jun 10, 2013

As Backlash Grows, FAA Is Planning 'Extensive' Special Event User Fees

Extremely Unpopular and (Potentially Illegal) FAA Plans Could Create Serious trouble For Huerta and Senior Staff

For the few weeks that recent FAA financial demands have been part of the aero-public discussion, its obvious that Administrator Huerta's Administration has struck a nerve. But... according to sources within the FAA, the current efforts may be but the tip of the iceberg.

ANN has learned that there are, reportedly, extensive discussions within the FAA, as well as outright intent to seek fees for a great number of events and activities that the FAA now deems to be outside of "normal operations." With the Lakeland Fly-In sacked for well over a quarter-million dollars and setting something of a precedent (which has alienated the Sun 'n Fun organization, somewhat, from others in the fly-in/event community who think that Lakeland should have fought it more aggressively), the FAA has shown how serious it is in this 'cost-recovery' program. Senior staffers within the FAA, led in part by FAA COO J David Grizzle, seem to be looking to recoup tens of millions of dollars in fees by targeting aviation intensive events... and not just those associated closely with the aviation community -- but those that result in incresed demands on "FAA resources."

Apparently; the FAA is developing a "menu" for basic service fees that starts with events as simple as a grassroots airshow waiver (ostensibly to start at/or around $5000) and to increase as the FAA's role becomes more complex or develops outside "normal operations." Fall events such as the Reno Air Races (which don't require much in the way of FAA 'special' services and may, therefore, escape much of the extra costs), HAI and NBAA conventions are on the bubble... with the NBAA show seen as being particularly 'lucrative' in terms of the fees that FAA expects to levy against the event and the organization. 

But... it doesn't stop there.

The FAA has a growing list of public events that require "extra surveillance and operation support" such as the Super Bowl (and smaller such bowl events), major car racing events such as the Indy 500, major golf events such as various PGA contests, horse-racing, the World Series, and more. ANN has been told that the FAA believes that it could eventually recoup between 20 and 30 million dollars with an aggressive push to make special operations "pay their share" (yes, that was actually said--ANN) of the special operations costs that the FAA (and the FAA alone) seems to think are now outside of their immediate responsibility to provide.

There is, however, significant concern within FAA legal circles as to whether they can get away with this escalating shakedown. While the FAA believes that the White House will support this initiative, sources indicate that there is growing concern about the growing backlash created by the revelation that they have demanded $500K form the EAA, as well as the growing support for the EAA position shown by elected officials in a recent letter to Administrator Huerta demanding reconsideration and suggesting that the FAA is acting outside of the law.

Negative reaction to the FAA "Aero-Extortion Scheme" continues to escalate. EAA's hometown newspaper, The Oshkosh Northwestern, in a Sunday Editorial, labeled the FAA positions as questionable in saying that, "Though for a time it seemed the IRS would hands down win the title of daffiest and most misguided three lettered government agency, the FAA quickly shot up in the rankings last week by demanding the Experimental Aircraft Association pay $500,000 for air traffic controller expenses during its annual AirVenture convention here in Oshkosh."

The Northwestern also noted that, "Indeed, the most puzzling aspect of the FAA’s approach is how it undermines the agency’s valid complaints about Washington playing chicken with transportation safety through the federal budget sequester. Earlier this year, Congress stepped in to give the FAA greater discretion of budgeting and allocating cuts when the agency began furloughing air traffic controllers and knotting up the nation’s airports. Agency funding isn’t lacking, only the good judgment of FAA officials."

The Northwestern concludes that, "Turning the absurdity of sequester gridlock into an AirVenture ultimatum not only flies in the face of established protocols and funding mechanisms, it also grounds the most powerful advocates for a fully funded and modern transportation system in this country. Such an approach is neither constructive nor intelligent or in the best interests of keeping our nation traveling safely. The Final Thought: FAA ultimatum over AirVenture is misguided."

Adding to the tumult, Tom Petri who represents Wisconsin's 6th Congressional District and is serving his 18th term in the U.S. House of Representatives, added to the clamor by stating that, "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."



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