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.
EAA leaders, members of Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation and the aviation community have made a strong case for why the Federal Aviation Administration’s demand is out-of-line and potentially unlawful without explicit Congressional authorization. Thousands of aviators who will make their way to Oshkosh this summer will shell out substantial user fees for fuel and the like to help directly cover the expenses of controllers and other parts of the nation’s air traffic safety system.
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.
Targeting air shows, AirVenture in particular, is cockeyed because the week-long convention is an odd sort of event where often unheralded and underappreciated Federal workers are treated like rock stars. FAA controllers jockey for the right to wear the pink shirts of AirVenture tower duty because it is an honor and mark of pride to direct traffic for the pre-eminent American aviation showcase each summer.
Only at AirVenture is it possible that pink shirted plane protectors could share some of the spotlight with the likes of Sir Richard Branson, Harrison Ford, George Lucas, Burt Rutan or Jim Lovell because everyone from megastars, astronauts and entrepreneurial extraordinaires alike land safely on Wittman Regional Airport’s runways thanks to the air traffic controllers looking down from the world’s busiest tower for a week.
For the convention not only showcases glam, it also allows the FAA and other agencies to educate the public about the efforts of thousands of dedicated government employees who work behind the scenes each day to make travel safe and uneventful, design tools to make transportation safer and sift through the wreckage of crashes to prevent additional tragedies.
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.