AirVenture 2013: A Welcome Course Correction

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As usual when walking the grounds of AirVenture in my green AVweb news shirt, I got engaged by a number of readers and interested bystanders. I always take this opportunity to ask where people have come from, what compelling things theyíve seen and what their overall impression of the show is.

I guess Iíd say the consensus is I found no consensus. Nearly everyone I spoke to liked this yearís event and those who noticed improvements that EAA has made seem to approve of the course changes. But honestly, I expected the enthusiasm to rise just a little above a slow simmer. But it didnít seem to.

Iím always asked by vendors and colleagues what I think the attendance is like. Trick question. In years past, Iíve guessed the place is mobbed only to learn that attendance is down by a couple of percent. My impression just from walking the hangars and the grounds is that itís up considerably over last year, if not the last several years. At times, the vendor hangars were unnavigable due to sheer human congestion and the lines at the food booths were 20 deep around lunch time. Yet when I asked a few vendors I know what the booth traffic was like, more of them said just okay, not fantastic. Aircraft Spruce was doing brisk business on the two days I went by their big corner store in Hangar A, but a few other vendors told me things were a little slow. John Moreland from CubCrafters mentioned they were closing in on a couple of sales and add a couple of more to that and the trek to AirVenture is more than worth the effort.

Officially, attendance figures arenít published until near the end of the show, but EAAís Dick Knapinski told me on Friday that attendance was ďon planĒ and that the finance guys were happy. We tend to measure the success of AirVenture by the rise and fall of attendance, but I think we also overstate its importance. You canít read megatrends into what happens in a single week in July, but what happens in the industry after the inevitable connections made at AirVenture bear fruit.

There were clearly more product introductions and innovations at AirVenture this year than since 2008. While many of these related to tablet computer apps, the new innovation center EAA erected where the much-reviled chalets were last year hosted some interesting developments, including a neat little wearable HUDóthink Google Glass for pilotsóand Adept Airmotiveís emerging high output V-6. (Weíve got videos on both.) These arenít just dingbat ideas, but could hold genuine promise for commercial development.

We didnít expect to see any introductions from the major airframers and as Dick Knapinski might say, that went to plan too. But with its buy of Thielert Aircraft Engines, Continental injected a welcome pulse of developmental energy thatís already paying off. Redbirdís Redhawk project is but the leading edge of diesel conversions that I expect to see gain traction within 24 months. Lycoming, itís now your turn.

I keep hearing about the coming trend of decreasing prices on both aircraft and avionics, but itís too soon to say if anything we saw at AirVenture validates this. Yes, the Redhawk project promises lower operating costs as do Continentalís diesels and Bendix/Kingís price on the new KT74 transponder will give Garmin pause. But two datapoints do not a trend establish. Frankly, I remain wary of overreach in claims that the Part 23 revision will usher in a fresh new day with an expanded market and enthusiastic newcomers. Weíll see.

Personally, I like the changes EAA made in this yearís AirVenture. The association has invested in incrementally improved infrastructure and made a measurable attempt to making the show more affordable to attend. The food courts were a mixed bag. Lunch for two at one of the A&W stands still whacked most of a $20 bill, but the quality was better and it was marginally cheaper than last year. Although I tend not to gush, Iím relaxing my normal thoughtful restraint with regard to the airshow. EAA nailed it. I hope it continues the trend of a faster paced show with more variety and more and bigger Jumbotrons. Those things rocked.

Bottom line: Weíre not quite back to 2006 yet, but on the other hand, itís a different world now. My view is that AirVenture 2013 at least points us in the right direction.

Join the conversation. †Read others' comments and add your own.

Comments (34)

This was my 37th consecutive Oshkosh. In the last few years I thought EAA was moving away from it's roots and forgetting the people that had made it what it is today. I agree that this year's convention was a step in the right direction but they still have a ways to go. I know that money tends to drive most decisions today but somewhere there must be room for the EAA Spirit to thrive. I want an EAA I can believe in, not just belong to.

Tim Juhl Carsonville, MI

Posted by: Timothy Juhl | August 5, 2013 7:43 AM    Report this comment

Comments that EAA has evolved (expanded?) away from its roots as a family of homebuilders is probably the most-voiced complaint you hear when the question "how is it going?" is asked.

While understandable, this angst must be tempered with a healthy measure of practicality. Had the EAA not embraced all of aviation there would not be this yearly great gathering of the clan and EAA would not be the national power in general aviation it has become.

I'm a long-time national EAA member who is purely a "spam can driver" and who has not and never will build my own airplane. But I love aviation and periodically make the trek to Oshkosh, something I would not even consider if it were exclusively for the homebuilder core. It would be interesting to know what percentage of the membership fits my general profile.

Posted by: John Wilson | August 5, 2013 12:41 PM    Report this comment

I'm not fond of the "spam can" appellation for my airplane. I dearly love my 50 year old Cessa P172D, which has more mods to it than most, so while I have to have my IA either do or approve my doing, I feel that it fits the EAA philosophy well.

My take on this year's Airventure is mixed.

On the plus side: The variety of food vendors is a vast improvement, and since I purposely avoided the chain franchises, I found the food both tasty and relatively inexpensive. The FAA controllers did their usual marvelous job, in spite of a few incredibly stupid moves by unprepared pilots. The performers in the airshows were top notch--and the night airshows were both marvelous, Saturday's even better than Wednesday's. The Kobussen bus drivers once again proved their magic skills at fitting too wide busses into too narrow confines without leaving paint behind--and how they all can be so cheerful and accommodating in spite of huge crowds is amazing.

On the negative side: Some pilots are amazingly unprepared--I think some are totally unaware of the NOTAM, and others haven't read it if they know it exists, but from watching landings every morning all week long, I can say that a certain percentage haven't practiced spot landings, go arounds, or slow flight, all essential skills to avoid embarrassing oneself, or worse, and some have obviously never had to listen to controllers--pretty bad when a Bonanza driver has to be told 3 times "V tail Bonanza on final, go around" before he reacts, and even worse when an RV and Tiger driver each had to be told that they were landing on 9 against the traffic on 27 (at least the Tiger driver got the message before touching down, unlike the RV driver who not only touched down, but then took off and busted through the pattern for 18-36). There are still too many hot-rodding golf cart and John Deere 4x4 drivers--maybe each vehicle should have a large sticker on it with an ID number and a phone number to call if it's observed being driven recklessly--one of these days someone will be seriously hurt. The "music" during the airshow is often inappropriate (seems to have no relevance to the performance) and way too loud, drowning out the narrations--some of the performers should take a cue from Julie Clark, whose performances and music fit one another like a glove. With night airshows, it would be nice if the trams ran later, so that there would be a way "home" other than walking.

Of course, this year's weather was a treat compared to past years' weather--not too hot, only chilly at night, nothing like the 100 degree temps and humongous storms of yesteryear. So whoever is in charge of the weather at EAA, you done good. :)

My quibbles aren't intended to be complaints, but ideas for improvement. All in all, it was again a fun week--like I've told others, give me 10,000 airplanes and a few hundred thousand aviation enthusiasts, and I'm in nirvana.


Posted by: Cary Alburn | August 5, 2013 2:52 PM    Report this comment

Never been to the big show at Osh, haven't one iota of interest to do so. Also have no problem with spam can and its derived meaning. I'll leave that interpretation to those who think taildragger pilots are 'better' pilots, stick shift auto drivers are 'better' drivers, and such similar silliness.

Though, I woiuld say that spam spam spam cessna spam can be equally as wonderful as spam spam spam piper-or-other spam. It's really personal preference.

As far as airplane nirvana is concerned, give me a couple homebuilts or spam cans, a grass or dirt strip in the woody pines or near the water with a campfire, telescope, quiet, no Jumbotron or air show, no cellphones or ipads, my own food, or spam, and hearing nothing but the waves or the breath of an elk to send me to sleep. All for about fifty bucks. :)

Posted by: David Miller | August 5, 2013 5:23 PM    Report this comment

"maybe each vehicle should have a large sticker on it with an ID number and a phone number to call if it's observed being driven recklessly"

They did. A new addition this year.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 5, 2013 6:56 PM    Report this comment

To follow up with Cary's thoughts on the fly-in procedures, I thought there was a lot of unnecessary chatter on the radio. This was only my second year attending the show, and my first year flying in to OSH, so maybe it was typical of the fly-in. However, there was a moment when we were on short final to land on 36L where we were wondering if enough pilots would stop talking long enough for ATC to actually clear us to land. There was also similar chatter when we were in the mad dash to depart later in the day, and we similarly saw a lot of pilots clearly not familiar with the procedures. The interesting part for me was, after closely following the NOTAM, my initial thought was "that's all there is to it"?

One thing I will add to the comments about the airshow, some of the announcers clearly were not aviation types and got a few facts wrong. Nothing to detract from the performances themselves, though it did give me a few moments of unintended amusement (such as the "Lycoming Ten-ThreeSixty" engine that was apparently powering one of the planes). It definitely was better than last year's, though, and I found myself watching more of the airshows this year than last (last year's afternoon airshows felt like they were all repeats of the exact same acts, and once you saw it one of the days, there was nothing new to see on any of the other days).

My only real complaint for this year was the lack of public water fountains (even though they were still shown on the map). Fortunately, it wasn't hot this year (actually, it was a bit too cold on Monday and Tuesday morning) so I didn't need to fill my water bottle very often. I also applaud them for adding more airconditioned tents that were available to regular attendees, and the overall grounds layout seemed much more efficient and less crowded.

While the controllers were doing a wonderful job, some of the non-ATC marshalers weren't so efficient. I felt we sat on the ground much longer than we should have, given our position from the runway, and of course there were a few corporate jets/turboprops who seemed to feel the rules didn't apply to them. But all-in-all, I look forward to attending again next year.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 6, 2013 2:05 PM    Report this comment

My first AirVenture....shame on me for not coming years ago.

The best thing was to see all the time-money & effort that so many have invested in restoring and maintaining their immaculate aircraft. With so much wrong in the world today, these beautiful aircraft are a GOOD THING!!!

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