The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association donated $125,000 in recognition of the event's $55 million impact on the state economy, he said. But Sun 'n Fun, a nonprofit focused on aviation education, is still struggling to pay the rest of the tab.
"We cannot do scholarships or even put together some programs for kids to learn to fly," Leenhouts said.
EAA officials fear they will be in a similar position. Like Sun 'n Fun, AirVenture is a fundraiser for aviation education programs, and EAA board chairman Jack Pelton said the unexpected 7 percent increase in costs means less will be left for those charitable efforts.
It is a particularly bitter pill because the federal budget that went into effect Oct. 1 included money for air traffic control for major aviation events, as did previous budgets, said Pelton, a private pilot and former CEO of Cessna Aircraft Co. Air traffic control is funded partly by Congress and partly with a fuel tax paid by pilots. Many fliers now feel they are being taxed twice.
Dick Knapinski, a private pilot and spokesman for EAA, called it an "ominous precedent."
"Congress sets the appropriations and tells the agencies how to operate their budget, but the FAA has gone around that process without any congressional approval or public input," he said.
EAA has received support from a bipartisan group of 28 senators, including the two from Wisconsin, Republican Ron Johnson and Democrat Tammy Baldwin, and Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, a pilot and longtime AirVenture participant. They asked FAA administrator Michael Huerta in a June 6 letter to reconsider charging AirVenture, saying air traffic services are already covered by the aviation fuel tax.
Wisconsin Rep. Tom Petri, a Republican whose district includes Oshkosh, where AirVenture is held, also has been lobbying the FAA to reconsider the fee. He faulted the agency for charging AirVenture when it could have made other cuts.
But while lawmakers criticized the FAA, others blamed the elected officials. Petri and many senators who signed the letter voted for the budget authorizing the automatic cuts.
"It's very unfortunate that the inability of the federal government to do their job and create a working, functioning budget has to be forced down on the general public to suffer the consequences of their poor efforts," Leenhouts said.
Inhofe voted against the bill because of concerns about how the across-the-board nature of the cuts would affect the military and FAA, his office said. Baldwin had not yet been elected.
EAA has paid its fee under protest and filed an appeal in federal court, but Pelton acknowledged it could be months, if not years, before the matter is resolved. Meanwhile, both AirVenture and Sun 'n Fun have started looking at ways to reduce air traffic costs next year.