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Show Attendance: Up, Down or No Change?

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"Now that," said my friend Walter Atkinson, "is something you just don't see at an AOPA party." The "that" he was referring to was an attractive young woman dancing atop the wing of Herpa's DC-3 with a day-glo, internally lighted hula hoop with auto-sequenced flashers and synchronized color shift. Dan Gryder, the DC-3's owner and chief pilot, was accompanying on trombone. Now neither Walter nor I drink enough anymore to hallucinate, so I swear, this really happened and, well, that's what makes OSH the place to be during the last week in July.

The -3 was parked at the Orion ramp on the north side of Wittman where Dan had put together a nice party for AVweb advertisers and supporters and one that gave us an opportunity to auction off a left-seat ride for the benefit of Challenge Air, one of the worthiest of causes. It also gave me an opportunity to canvass the crowd to ask about the largish elephant in the room these daysóthe question of whether GA is about to tank. Is the entire industry on the precipice of a sharp decline due to fuel prices and softness in the general economy? Are we about to be regulated out of existence?

Maybe I am hallucinating, but if there are markedly fewer people at AirVenture, it's not obvious. The North 40 isn't chock-a-block with parked airplanes, but I've seen that before. I have noticed that the car lots are fuller than I ever remember seeing them and foot traffic is as dense as ever. More than once, AVweb's mobile news cartólook for us in the green shirts and flying the green bannerógot gridlocked in a sea of humanity. We'll see what EAA's gate receipts show, but for all I know, it's the difference between 100 people and 95. It's just not that noticeable.

Yesterday, I walked the vendor booths and asked how business was. Everyone I talked to said they we were prepared for sparse attendance but all were seeing more traffic than they expected to. And the river of aviation-oriented humanity is yielding a better class of customer--more buyers, fewer tire kickers. Wag-Aero told me that Wednesday's receipts were within $500 of last year's total, an amount easily lost in the noise level. That makes sense to me. There's nothing like $6 avgas to drive off the riff raff.

I heard quite a few comments to the effect that we should enjoy this while we still can because (a) the Democrats will get elected and regulate general aviation out of existence or (b) the Republicans will and high gas prices and poor business conditions will whither what's left of the industry. When I hear that, I need to remind the speaker to get a grip. While we need to be realistic about the industry's future, let's lose the doom and gloom, please.

As the mood at OSH shows, we are in the middle of a sea change in this country, the long-term effects of which can't be predicted this July or for probably many to come. And yes, GA may retract and it may not be as accessible for as many as it traditionally has been and yes, economics will force us to use our airplanes more wisely. But the industry is sustainable and it will find a way to become more so. I've been following the main stream press reports on consumer reaction to high gas prices and I am, frankly, encouraged. In fact, I'm bordering on bullishness.

Looking around OSH makes me more so. We've reported on some bold products and ideas here, the LSA segment continues to flower and there are more sophisticated and promising innovations than ever. You don't draw the better part of a million people to wander around a small airport in Wisconsin every summer on a lark. Despite high fuel prices and a recession, airplanes and the people who fly them seem to be eternal and thus, there will always be an Oshkosh.

Comments (7)

EAA's AirVenture is a giant Commercial Airshow. If you are a devotee of the Seaplane forget it! The Seaplane Base flyin coverage sucked! Get Ready! Socilalism and the energy crisis will deminish aviation. Enjoy flying while you can. The more EAA has to say it's bigger and better than ever, the more we have to worry about. Between ethanol and the the end of 100LL, the future looks bleak! The LSA program is an attempt to restart aviation. However, it's over-priced, made in foreign countries and the designs are do-overs of Piper and Cessna aircraft. The LSA/ASTM is a joke thus far. I hope the above observations are wrong.

Posted by: Norman Gracy | August 2, 2008 6:20 AM    Report this comment

I don't understand the extreme pessimism. With suitable modifications, aircraft engines can be run on gasahol, gasoline from coal, and pure ethanol (remember the VW powered Pober Pixie that the EAA ran on pure ethanol in the 70's?). New avaition diesel engines can be set up to run on biodiesel. We even have short range electric sportplanes coming on line that can be charged via windmill or solar in future. It is an exciting time to be alive! In the long run we'll still fly and do it while creating less pollution! Maybe the average pilot's airplane will be slower & lighter, but in my experience those kinds of airplanes are more fun for looking at the scenery anyway. New US MADE LSAs are showing up too! Come on in, the water's fine! My own project is an example - a scratch built Micro Mong, quite far along, and I'm planning a 1/3 Corvair engine with an expected fuel burn of < 3 GPH at cruise.

Posted by: Larry Rice | August 2, 2008 9:09 AM    Report this comment

Larry, I've owned and operated a 51% amateur kit built LSA amphibian for 13 years. So far, there's nothing new on the market that will replace it. I'm a firm believer that a floatplane is a poor boat and a poor airplane. I saw a Mong Sport on floats. The waterline seems a little high! I agree it's the journey not the destination that's fun. I'm very fond of my Searey that's a 40 knot boat and a 100 knot airplane. It runs on Mogas and gets 31/2-5 gallons an hour with a Rotax 912UL.It's a pusher, you sit out front, has a great view and flying qualities. BTW, I've learned you never say "always." $4.00/gallon causes some hesitations and behavior changes. $7.00-$10.00/gal will cause more.

Posted by: Norman Gracy | August 2, 2008 10:16 AM    Report this comment

Paul, from your article I can tell you are not going to like Socialism. Gloom and Doom? Remember, freedom isn't free.

Posted by: Norman Gracy | August 2, 2008 10:57 AM    Report this comment

Norman, my micro Mong won't be a floatplane, although I think it's something I'd love to try one some day. Yes, $7 to $10 gas will cause problems, I agree, but let's keep pushing the tech and we can keep up in the air! :)

Posted by: Larry Rice | August 2, 2008 11:18 AM    Report this comment

Larry, I agree. My source in Detroit says we are at least we are two years away from energy efficiency. Meanwhile, we need to get off of Middle East oil. Break throughs in aircraft usually follow power advances.

Posted by: Norman Gracy | August 2, 2008 12:52 PM    Report this comment

I still had to show up early in order to get a decent camp site, it also had to be big enough for my son and his family of 5. I didn't see that much diffrence if any. As always it is a great show! The camp ground was packed with campers!

Posted by: Jerry Arthur | August 13, 2008 7:59 PM    Report this comment

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