ATC User Fees Continue for Airshows

** Photo courtesy of Copperstate Fly-In**

Budget cuts have hit the FAA hard again this year, with the agency continuing to charge hefty user fees for temporary air traffic control services at airshows. One of the first airshows of the year, the Cable Air Show at the Cable Airport near Upland, California, took place over the weekend. The owner of the airport, Bob Cable, paid $15,000 to continue to use the temporary control tower services that the local airshow has used free of charge for about the past 20 years.

With great weather bringing more than 10,000 people to the show, Cable said the event generated enough money to pay for the ATC services. However, the community will suffer the consequences of the user fee as the proceeds for the show go to non-profit organizations for aviation scholarships. "This is really hurting the small airports that want to do something for the community," Cable said. "I really don't want to do a huge event without some kind of tower. It gets a little hectic and a little crazy and I want trained individuals up there." Cable had about 80 to 90 airplanes fly in for the show, which included aerobatic performances.

The Copperstate Fly-In, a show where hundreds of airplanes fly in to Casa Grande Airport in Casa Grande, Arizona, opted not to pay for ATC services for its October 2013 show. Copperstate's president Stephen Bass said the user fees would have added up to more than $60,000, which the show could not afford. The 2013 show was the first uncontrolled fly-in since the event started in the early 1970s and, while there were no close calls, Bass said he would prefer to go back to having professional controllers at the show. "With the tremendous number of airplanes that we get in a couple of days, there is a safety concern," Bass said.

Ian Gregor, Public Affairs Manager for the Pacific Division of the FAA, said the user fees vary because it is a cost reimbursement program. The fees pay for the controllers' time, possible overtime for other controllers to fill their regular slots, travel costs, per-diem, and so on.

"We're already looking for alternatives for next year," Cable said. He said he is looking into the possibility of using contract controllers, or the show may go on without a temporary tower, but in that case without aerobatics.

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Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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