Full Speed Ahead for Oshkosh

We’ve been hearing that some people are concerned that EAA’s big show at Oshkosh this summer is in jeopardy because of the FAA budget cuts caused by the federal government sequestration. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The concern by pilots and the thousands who attend Oshkosh every year is, however, understandable. A number of significant air shows have already announced that they are cancelling. The Air Force and Navy have both said that appearances by the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels have been canceled early in the season, and the jet teams may be grounded for the entire year.

Several of the shows that have already pulled the plug were scheduled to take place on military bases. With the military facing severe budget cuts you can see how the Pentagon would be forced to move air shows down low on the priority list.

And there are questions swirling about control tower closures. The FAA has released a list of about 170 towers where traffic count is lowest and announced that many of those towers may be closing soon. Towers at airports that host some of the biggest air shows are on the list, including Lakeland, Florida, home of Sun n Fun, and Oshkosh.

Can you host an air show and big fly-in without a control tower? I really don’t know. What normally happens when there is a show or big fly-in at an uncontrolled airport is that the FAA brings in a temporary tower, one of those tower cabs on a trailer.

The management of Sun n Fun has announced that it will pay the cost of controllers to work the show from its own funds. I think that can work. Airport authorities and local communities often contribute to the cost of operating a contract tower. Most of the towers slated for possible closing are operated by contractors. That means the controllers are fully qualified and certified by the FAA, but are actually employees of an independent company that contracts the service to the FAA.

But we at EAA are different than other shows in many ways and Oshkosh will go on as usual even if sequestration and the federal budget battles last into summer.

First, Oshkosh does not depend on military participation to put on a great show. Of course, we all like to see current military aircraft flying and on static display, but they are not a major part of the world’s greatest aviation event. Historic warbirds will not be affected at all by sequestration. Warbirds are a very big part of the show celebrating our military aviation heroes every year, and the warbirds will be at Oshkosh this year as usual.

Second, Oshkosh doesn’t begin until July 29. Air shows originally scheduled for the next couple of months are faced with difficult questions that have no answers and some have been forced to cancel to avoid financial disaster. By the time Oshkosh rolls around most of the impact of sequestration will be known and EAA has time to deal with any fallout.

Third, the FAA controllers who come to Oshkosh every year are volunteers. Yes, they are active fully qualified controllers from the central part of the country, but each is a volunteer.

Actually, the controllers compete to volunteer because there are more who want to work Oshkosh than there are available positions. And controllers—though fully qualified at their home facility—must train alongside veterans of the show in the unique positions at Oshkosh to fully qualify for subsequent years of working the position. It is grueling work for the Oshkosh week, but it is a high honor for controllers who are selected and resounding evidence that they are the very best in their profession.

Believe me, EAA management is paying very close attention to the sequestration situation, and we are making plans for any eventuality. But as I said, EAA is both different and lucky. Oshkosh will go on as scheduled.

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6 Responses to Full Speed Ahead for Oshkosh

  1. Fred Stadler says:

    Thanks, Mac, for your upbeat comments about AirVenture, an event we’re eagerly anticipating.

    Your comment that sequestration won’t affect staffing of FAA controllers at AirVenture because they are “volunteers” might lead some readers to infer that they are not paid. While these wonderful controllers do apply for their assignments, they certainly are paid and the costs to send them to Oshkosh are substantial. We can be glad that FAA recognizes the international importance of this event and supports it, even in this extremely challenging financial environment.

  2. Ricardo Alayza says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you. Military display on amateur airshows is second on list, besides, historical warplanes will be present. I think the military budget cut is for the benefit of the nation and citizens should salute this desition and keep supporting aviation events.

  3. Rodney says:

    It is all showboating, the tower closures, canceling airshows, all these actions are very visible to the public and therefore put out there to characterize the reduction in spending as “bad”. In truth there are many areas where cuts can be made that would be invisible to the public but these would not get the political message across. I am sure Airventure/Oshkosh will go on as planned. The political theatre will have played itself out by then.

  4. Todd Stovall says:

    Volunteering does not equal doing something for free. Those controllers still get paid, even if they are taking leave to perform the duty, just not by EAA. I can’t speak for DOT, but in the DOD we’ll be prohibited from “volunteering” at our jobs on our designated furlough day (I get my official notification letter on the 22nd) and we can’t take any form of leave on that day either — we go into unpaid status and legally can’t perform our designated duties, period. Hopefully, if the law allows, DOT will be more liberal in their sequestration implementation.

  5. Dave says:

    The controllers volunteer to work Oshkosh. They are not volunteers at Oshkosh. They are paid for a normal work week just like when they are at their home tower. They are not on leave. The controllers must be released from their home tower to work the show and the overtime used to cover for them being gone may not be available this year. I know overtime is not going to be allowed to cover for furloughed controllers. Don’t be so sure that things will be “normal”. By the way, it’s not “showboating” to the ones who are losing money to this by not being allowed to go to work.

  6. Kenneth Katz says:

    Aviation is in general a politically conservative crowd. If you don’t think that the current Administration would be delighted to stick it to a large grouping of conservatives, you have not been paying attention.

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