Before introducing EAA's new president, Rod Hightower, to a roomful of reporters on Monday, current president Tom Poberezny took a minute to talk about the weeks of torrential rain, topped off by a soaking storm, that preceded this week's event. "In the 35 years I've been at the helm, this was, I think, the most challenging year ever for AirVenture," he said. "But I think it will also be remembered as one of the best years." It's tough times, Poberezny said, that show the passion people have for aviation, for EAA, and for this annual gathering at Oshkosh; and it's that kind of passion that will be remembered, not the long days and hard work.
Poberezny is great at conveying that kind of passion and commitment, because he embodies it and lives it. His long reign at the helm of EAA hasn't been without controversy, but when he talks about growing aviation and taking it to the next generation, it's clear that's a concept that means more to him than just dollar signs, more than just maintaining a steady stream of consumers. It means more people to innovate, to have the opportunity to achieve astounding things, to carry forward the dream that aviation has represented to so many for so long.
In the short time we spent with Hightower today, that vision thing, that passion, that drive to create something from nothing, was hard to discern. He answered every question without hesitation, he hit on all the talking points, he seemed confident, friendly, easygoing. He flies a Stearman and he clearly enjoys it. He might make a good partner to Poberezny, in taking care of the day to day operations of EAA, as it expands into a global organization. But could he inspire hordes of volunteers to turn out, day after day, long into sleepless nights, to push thousands of airplanes through muddy fields and keep AirVenture going?
Maybe that's not his function -- when asked about his vision for the next 5 to 10 years of EAA, he said his intention is to carry out the strategic plans the board has mapped out, after a long and painstaking process. But if the goal is for him to take over Poberezny's role as the leader of EAA, will he also be able to buy into that plan, heart and soul, and carry it forward with energy and imagination? Can he take on the challenge of becoming not just a manager, but a leader, to grow the world's biggest aviation event and the EAA organization, to express the appeal of GA to the wider world?
Next time he's asked about the vision thing, it would be good to hear Hightower talk not about the road map he plans to follow, but the trail he's determined to blaze.