AirVenture Fall Out
Following up my wrap blog of earlier this week: Every year, after AirVenture, into my inbox comes a trickle of e-mail—and it usually is a trickle—decrying how EAA has gone further to hell than it already was. This year, given that AirVenture attendance was down 6 percent, there's more ammunition to blame the organization and show organizers for something they did or failed to do.
While I can find things to complain about, I also realize one thing: AirVenture is no longer the friendly little experimental fly-in of its roots and it hasn't been that for what…25 years now? Still, those elements of the show are still there. Type clubs have tents and meets, homebuilders have forums and brat roasts, the camping in the North 40 is as good as ever and may even be better given the improved facilities on the field. The FAA usually shows up and tries to at least explain itself at what is, after all, the most important airshow in the world.
When EAA changed the name from the Fly-in and Convention to AirVenture—a righteous shift, in my view—it made a market statement of sorts and the event continues to evolve. It nibbles at different edges of the GA, business and even airline markets every year. In reality, the AirVenture label simply recognized what the show had already become. To me, that's as it should be. Big shows like this constantly change and change they must. If it gets bigger in the process, so much the better. They didn't have flightline Chalets in 1986. They do now. If you're pining for the days of a quaint fly-in, they're gone for good.
As for the larger question of where EAA goes from here, I opined on this before. Some have complained in this forum that Rod Hightower and the board are taking the association in the wrong direction—away from its experimenter roots and toward a larger, broader-based GA organization similar to AOPA. Apply the AirVenture logic above. If EAA hopes to grow the organization—again, a good thing—it's not going to find much growth in the experimental segment. By necessity, it will have to appeal to a broader base. As I've mentioned before, Sport Aviation already reflects this decision, even if the association hasn't plainly said as much. Again, these strike me as legitimate business decisions. In any business you hope to grow, you pick a path and carry on. EAA seems to be doing that, frankly. If that includes a profitable airshow, so be it.
If the strategy alienates too many long-time members, they'll say so and/or leave or form a competitive association more to their liking in the manner of the new Aircraft Kit Industry Association that just formed. If the overall business strategy tanks the membership or it becomes stagnant, the board will presumably replace Rod Hightower with someone who can fulfill its wishes, whatever they may be.
All of this is to say that any move EAA makes at AirVenture is going to annoy some people who think it should go back to being the way it was 30 years ago. That's not going to happen. So the best plan might be to attend AirVenture with the idea of taking in the things you like and avoiding those you don't. There's plenty there for everyone.
Now if I could just get an invite to one of those chalets…