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.