FAA wins controller showdown in Wisconsin

When Wisconsin’s biggest event — the air show in Oshkosh — takes place next month, the FAA will be providing air traffic controllers at what becomes the world’s busiest airport, and the organization that sponsors the event is hopping mad about it.

The Experimental Aircraft Association announced today it’s agreed to pay $450,000 in expenses for the air traffic controllers, after the FAA balked at sending them this year because of the sequester budget cuts.

“As far as we’re concerned, this isn’t over,” EAA Chairman Jack Pelton said in a press release this afternoon. “We entered this agreement only because there was no other realistic choice to preserve aviation’s largest annual gathering. We also look forward to FAA’s leadership coming to Oshkosh this year to personally explain their policy to the nation’s aviators.”

The FAA’s demand for payment in relation to air traffic services, first unexpectedly revealed by the agency in mid-May, left EAA, exhibitors and others in a position where millions of dollars had already been committed to AirVenture 2013. In addition, refusal of FAA services or not meeting the agency’s standards would have caused the FAA to void the necessary waivers that are essential for Oshkosh air operations during the event.

The one-time agreement will allow AirVenture to have a full complement of 87 FAA air traffic controllers and supervisors at the event for essential air safety services. Federal budget sequestration, however, will diminish the FAA’s presence at Oshkosh this year in areas such as forums and exhibits.

During AirVenture, controllers land three planes at once on the runway, in order to accommodate the large number of aircraft that fly in to the event.

The Oshkosh tower, which is privately contracted during the 51 other weeks of the year, was on the FAA’s list of control towers that would be closed. In the face of lawsuits, those closings have been delayed.

Earlier this year, the air show in St. Cloud, which is held a week before Oshkosh, was canceled because of uncertainty from the sequester.

(Disclaimer: I’m a member of EAA.)