AirVenture 2013: A Welcome Course Correction
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.