A Normal AirVenture For 2021? Don’t Count On It


COVID-19 vaccine or not, aviation events for 2021 are by no means assured and EAA’s Jack Pelton says planning for AirVenture continues to be “a high wire act.” This week, organizers of the Paris airshow announced that the June event has been canceled and at least one show planned for January 2021, the Deland Sport Aviation Showcase, has now been moved back to November. Pelton says EAA continues to examine contingencies for AirVenture but warns that people should be prepared for a very different show. Public health officials, including the CDC and NIAID, are advising that large crowd events might not be practical until late in the summer or end of the year.

If a vaccine is available and widely deployed and COVID-19 cases are in sharp decline, AirVenture could be close to normal, Pelton told us in this exclusive vodcast recorded this week. “What we’re doing from a planning standpoint today is that it won’t be normal. We’re assuming there’s going to be a smaller crowd. We’re looking venue by venue to see what we cannot do to be safe. Theater in the woods would look at distancing, we’re looking at masks, we’re looking at taking exhibitors out of the hangars and putting them in outside exhibits,” Pelton said. “There’s certain parts on the grounds where there’s congestion. We’re looking at ways to either minimize the crowds or do away with those particular venues. I know so much of this depends on people’s personal behavior,” he added.

EAA is also in contact with major sports teams, specifically the Green Bay Packers, to learn what they’re planning and doing for events in 2021 if COVID-19 is still a factor. It’s also talking to two nationally known sanitization products companies about how to provide anti-virus protection and cleaning for high-touch surfaces. Much of what happens next depends on events beyond EAA’s control. “A couple of things need to happen. We’ve got to get the curves at least turned in the correct direction in the coming months because even with the vaccine, if we’re having these enormous numbers of deaths, that’s not going to bode well for a July event,” Pelton said.

Critical decision making will happen in the first or second week of May. “To have the event period, whether it’s go or no go, that needs to happen at the beginning of May time frame. After the beginning of May, we start writing pretty big checks that we can’t recover,” he said. EAA is also contacting volunteers, exhibitors and members to poll sentiments on going forward. In August, EAA returned to office operations in Oshkosh, with COVID-19 risk mitigations in place. The museum is open, but isn’t hosting large school groups and high-touch areas are limited. The association is planning more virtual events for the coming months.

“When it comes to decision time, a lot of it will be personal choice. We do believe it will be a 50-50 coin toss on how people make that decision. There are some people … they aren’t wearing masks … others are more concerned and taking adequate precautions and following the guidelines. How you translate that into who’s going to show up and who isn’t is hard to say,” Pelton said.

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  1. I still don’t understand how people can minimize the threat and decide to travel via commercial air, eat indoors at restaurants, and gather in groups without wearing a mask. Maybe it’s like using tobacco. Most people who smoke look healthy, so why not? (except thats we don’t see folks asphyxiating and dying of emphysema in overcrowded nursing homes).

    • Pretty hard to eat while wearing a mask.

      Effective treatments (preventative and recovery) are now known. They’ll be available if it becomes politically feasible, it seems.

        • Because so many people who have had COVID have needed one? Any stats on that? I know numerous people who have had COVID with very minimal effects. Yes, those who are high-risk can, not necessarily will, but can have much worse effects, but I doubt they’ll be the ones attending OSH next year.

          • Sorry if my sarcasm was not apparent. I also know several people who have had COVID with no lasting effects, including older folks with less than perfect health. Not saying it isn’t potentially dangerous to some folk, but they know who they are and should take appropriate measures, it is not necessary for everyone however.

          • We don’t yet know about lasting effects; they are being seen in so-called “healthy” people. Who’s to know if it will affect you?

    • It’s the wrong question to think about “minimizing a threat” since reality is that 99.7% survive and treatments now are now better than ever. The better question to ask is WHY stop a future event when all indications are that it’s not a real current problem and treatments are improving daily.

      • Not a real current problem? Please don’t tell me that on the day in which I lost a friend my age to Covid 19, on a day which is part of a record breaking surge of the virus and its toll. It ain’t no thang till it happens to you, is that it?

      • I believe your “99.7% survive” statistic is wrong, and it dangerously understates the harm this disease is causing the USA. “98.1% do not die” is closer (Source; John Hopkins Coronavirus Research Centre). But also, you should give some weight to the 20% that need hospital care, to those who need ICU care, to those “long haul” sufferers who don’t die but are impaired for months, maybe for the rest of their life.

        Do you think the deaths on 9/11 were a big deal? Last Wednesday, COVID-19 killed more US people (3,206) than 9/11. The next day, COVID-19 topped that by killing 3,115 people. (Source: Covid Tracking Project, of The Atlantic). Maybe today will be another 9/11 again.

        I believe you are badly mistaken to say, “all indications are that it’s not a real current problem”.

    • Because…..

      We are free Americans?

      We choose to live our lives as we choose? Those who are at risk are also free to shelter out of public view.

      • It disturbs me that so many people are adamant about asserting their “right” to take chances with a virus with no thought for the inevitable consequences when you pass it on to other people, who end up DYING (including people who don’t have underlying conditions.) You may be fine with being a semi-intentional serial killer, I sure am not.

  2. I’m guessing that it will not happen unless it is moved back at least a month. Yeah, I know, that is really hard to do and begins to conflict with schools starting and vacations are ending. But, unless we all get really lucky, the vaccine will not be in wide enough circulation to have radically reduced the spread. Pfizer says that the first shipments of their vaccine will only be sufficient to treat most healthcare providers and first responders and some high risk elder people. Their next allotment for the US will not be available until at least June – too late to help for Oshkosh. Unless the Moderna and Astra Zeneca vaccines are approved and available in sufficient quantity for a large proportion of the population, July will be too close to call.

    Unfortunately, we are just now seeing the impact of the Thanksgiving travel on the rising number of cases. It usually takes 10-14 days after exposure for the cases to really blossom. And, yes, we do have better treatments, but like the vaccines, they are not available in large enough amounts to treat all who need them. Large medical centers and hospitals in major cities have access, but small towns and rural hospitals just don’t have the facilities and supplies for what they are now seeing. Over 3,000 dead today and no end in sight. If Christmas sees a similar surge, the whole medical system may collapse. Believe what you want, but the virus doesn’t care. You are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Relying on the vaccine alone to rescue us is not a good strategy.

  3. Could someone please clarify for me how effective the vaccine is and the effective duration. My current understanding is it is very similar to a flu shot in that it is limited to specific strain and is only effective up to a maximum time frame of three months. How do the vaccine’s differ between manufacturers?

    • Apparently 95% or better after a second dose. I don’t think there’s enough data to say how long it protects you, but it seems like at least several months or about as long as the flu vaccine.

    • Realistically it’s probably far too early to tell. At least some of the vaccines are experimental types, so difficult to predict accurately how effective and for how long. Of course, it is PREDICTED to be the silver bullet, but then you get the same hype for every new product that comes to market.

      • Actually, most of the fact-based coverage of the vaccines I’ve seen have NOT been marking it out as a “silver bullet”. It will also depend on how many people actually get the vaccine.

        • Fact-based coverage is tough to find and not what most people are seeing. What politicians are selling (at least what I am hearing) is a silver bullet.

    • @Tom C: you should prepare yourself for the answer: the vaccines are good, but they don’t end the problem, and beyond that the answers are not simple and the our knowledge is in complete.

      You can read press releases that say this vaccine or that had “95% effectiveness”, but what that actually means is not simple. “Effectiveness” has a definition, and it may not be what you expect. “95%” is measured based on patients getting two doses, at least 3 or so weeks apart. People who don’t get both doses get a different effectiveness. There are at least 10 vaccines. They each operate differently, and protect differently. It is complex to get the vaccines manufactured, and distributed with the right refrigeration, and then into people’s arms, and then a second time into the same people’s arms.

      Fortunately, what it means for all of us is simple and clear. For 2021, the vaccines will roll out, and will help, but our duty remains unchanged. We must protect each other, and protect ourselves. Wash our hands. Avoid spending time with large groups of people. Wear masks to keep each other safe. Stay home if we have symptoms of illness. And don’t relax that until _after_ the disease numbers are finally small.

  4. From what I’ve read, natural immunity (people who caught COVID-19 and recovered from it) lasts at least six months, and the vaccine appears to provide at least that level of immunity. At this point, nobody really has 5-year data, obviously.

    Best guess is that the vaccine is good for more than one year.

    Problem right now is that it is going to take more than six months to get everybody immunized. If that stretches out to a year, then we might never get ahead of the virus.

    • It may be a bit of a stretch to assume the vaccine will give the same immunity as a natural infection.
      But your points are valid – thus the vaccine is not a final solution is is hailed to be.

  5. Actor Tom Hanks and his wife recently reported that blood tests indicate both still have “therapeutic levels” of antibodies to the virus six months after they recovered from it. Both had the virus in May while filming a movie in Australia. Hanks participates in a long-term study on antibody research and is also a plasma donor for antibody treatments. As David says, that is about as long term knowledge as doctors have on human immunity to the COVID 19 version of the virus, and it appears that the level of resistance varies from person to person. Both Pfizer and Moderna report that their vaccines are 94-95% effective in preventing the virus from replicating in your body. Astra Zeneca has not given an exact number, but it is somewhere near 90%. All three vaccines require two shots spaced 4-6 weeks apart for full protection. Oddly enough, the AZ vaccine turns out to be more effective if the first shot is half strength and the second is a full dose, which explains why they have not given a better estimate of effectiveness. It will likely not receive FDA approval until January. Moderna says they will likely submit their application sometime next week, meaning it will hopefully gain approval shortly after Christmas. None of the three companies have provided any definitive data on how long the immunity will last, but 12 months is probably a good estimate. Corona viruses are quite adept at evolving rapidly. The “common” cold is a form of Corona virus, which explains why there has not been a vaccine developed for it.

  6. What seems lost within the Covid-19 debate is the number of people who currently have the coronavirus. Many suggest that 99.77% recover implying that the total death rate is relatively small. That assumes there are no more new cases with a fixed number who will die and those who will recover based on statistical numbers gleaned from those who got the coronavirus and what was the eventual outcome.

    There are only two scenarios we can use right now. The first is who survived? Doesn’t matter how well they are surviving other than they have not died. Obviously the other outcome statistic is simply…the numbers of deaths. At this point, the USA has had a total of 16 million cases of which a little more than 9 million outcomes. Of 9 million outcomes, 300,000 people have died. That is 3+% of the roughly 9 million outcomes. America still does not know the outcome of the remaining 7 million and climbing known currently infected people.

    In Missouri, we have a total of cases as of 12/10/2020 of 351K+ with only 98K with a known outcome leaving 254K+ currently known infections which has resulted in 4800 deaths. In other words we still have 2.5 times more currently infected with only 30% of the total cases with a known outcome. So far, Missouri is experiencing a 5% death rate of all who have had a known outcome. That is not a minuscule percentage dying. And at the current levels of incoming infections, the numbers of infected people vs known outcomes are exponentially rising.

    Currently in Springfield MO, which has an excellent healthcare system, the hospitals are now at full capacity largely due to Covid infections. As of 12/9/2020, Springfield hospitals are turning away 60% of the emergency requests from more rural hospitals as a result. In addition to the overwhelming incoming emergency care current coronavirus infections is the the loss of the current staff due to healthcare worker infections. This is requiring 15-30 additional traveling nurses per week per hospital to meet even the most minimum staffing requirements. The two hospital presidents have went to the city council, the state legislators, and the Gov. Parsons himself asking for a statewide masking mandate, limiting crowds, limitations on close quarters within buildings and business establishments, social distancing, in other words, enforcement of the four known coronavirus mitigations because the public largely will NOT do this on their own volition.

    We are now just beginning to see the early affects of Thanksgiving. Christmas and New Years results will add to these numbers by the end of January 2021. Not looking good. Missouri and Springfield specifically took the policy of opening business and schools as soon as possible, early enforcement of masking. social distancing, with limitations on crowd sizes. While those restrictions were in place combined with citizen cooperation, Missouri had a very low rate of infection. Missouri moved toward recommending those mitigation practices instead of enforcement depending on Missouri citizens behavior to continue regarding mitigation protocols that had proven to work.

    Jack Pelton summed up it up quite prophetically and accurately when he said ” There’s certain parts on the grounds where there’s congestion. We’re looking at ways to either minimize the crowds or do away with those particular venues. I know so much of this depends on people’s personal behavior,” he added.”

    Yes, the bottom line is Jack’s last sentence…” I know so much depends on people’s personal behavior”. We can exercise our keyboard courage debating that 99.77% survive, a small percentage die, etc. pontificating, debating, and politicizing all of the components of this pandemic including what needs to be done to ensure the almighty economy, but at the end of the day today, our collective behavior is trending toward an ever increasing catastrophe of death, social unrest, diminishing economy, with a Covid funk of apathy. If there is a duplication of the boiling frog experiment on a mass scale, Covid-19 has provided this to us in a crystal clear demonstration of when a society gets used to its environment. We are becoming oblivious to the obvious.

    Thankfully, the EAA and it’s leadership, is demonstrating rational, realistic evaluation of the expected personal behavior of attendees. The vaccine will eventually aid in dealing with the trajectory of collective personal behavior of Americans. The question is, will it be in the field fast enough to allow safety for the AirVenture participants and minimize the liability to the EAA for hosting it in the first place.

    It is clear to me, and I believe to Jack Pelton, the personal behavior is not going to change for the better. Its a 50/50 chance the vaccine will be distributed well enough prior to July is really the only unknown for EAA leadership to evaluate. If the vaccine is available in quantity by May 15 and there is accurate data on the percentage of those who will allow to be vaccinated, then the decision will be made for AirVenture 2021. It’s risk evaluation we pilots must do before each flight. The personal behavior of America has and is being demonstrated. That now is a known quantity. The only variable for future events is vaccine availability, mass distribution, efficacy, side affects, and a population willing to be vaccinated.

    Personally, I think the vaccine will not be available in large enough quantity for the middle class to be effectively vaccinated prior to Oshkosh 2021. It’s middle class America that attends and supports AirVenture. And the middle class will be the last to get the vaccine according to the priorities being currently planned. And as this pandemic progresses, the next hostile debate will be the order of who gets the vaccine, and how those priorities were determined. Of course, like the frog who got acclimated to the ever increasing temperature of the water he was immersed in, we are getting used to our Covid environment. As long as he did not feel threatened by his ever hostile environment, he did not know or care he was being boiled to death. As long as we don’t die or suffer long term health issues, or a close friend or family member does likewise, we will continue to operate in an ever increasing hostile environment feeling no need to do what is necessary to improve our collective well being. We are used to medicating our way out of health crisis’. We expect likewise with coronavirus. What happens before the meds arrive is only a problem for the other guy, until our ox gets gored.

    As Paul said in the video, I am thankful I am not having to make decisions like the EAA leadership staff must make in the coming months. It will be relatively easy to make the right decision. The hard part is dealing with the EAA rank and file when it goes the way of the Paris Airshow.

  7. AS usual I see so many comments on here and elsewhere about how the Corona Virus is “no big deal” and “it’s being blown WAY out of proportion”…..these ignorant folks so obviously don’t live anywhere near the epicenters like NY (where I live) or California among many other places. It’s SERIOUS folks. VERY serious. I live right down the block from a major hospital that has zero beds available due to this…and it’s a HUGE hospital. People are dyeing at unprecedented rates and no political affiliation is going to change that fact. Example to bring this into a little more perspective: a ONE DAY total of deaths nearly matched the total of folks that died at Pearl Harbor….ONE DAY. We are starting to get numb to this…and that’s a very bad thing. In no scenario is 3000 deaths a day normal. None. And it’s been worse. And it’s sadly going to get even worse than that….this is not going away. The vaccines are a great first step forward—if they actually work and have no major side effects that is—and if they can pump out enough of the stuff to actually matter in all of 2021. Vaccines are great, but they take time to work. No magic bullet here, sorry. How we deal with this is a very personal matter, but educating the states and population that doesn’t see what is really happening is first and foremost the real deal in helping to stop this number of deaths for getting so bad it might not be recoverable at all much less in a year or so. Ignorance is deadly, more so than any disease. And before anyone thinks I’m some kin d of floofy Liberal, I’m not even close. Been a Republican my entire adult life. I even have a brother who survived Covid. I just have this weird ability to see things with my own eyes and make a decision based off that. Not what some news agency says. Not what some politician looking for my vote says. I’m a grown ass adult, I think for myself. You should too. Just gather ALL the facts, from EVEYWHERE, not just your own backyard, and see it for what it is, a disease that doesn’t care who you are, where you live, who you vote for, which news outlet you believe in, nothing. It will kill you all the same. Wake up and see it already.

    • Interesting that you claim to be thinking for yourself, while at the same time quoting all the latest media fluff.
      Also, calling anyone who disagrees with your position ignorant is a weak argument. There is a LOT more to all of this than you referenced – a lot of people don’t know what they don’t know.

      • I think for myself. So did my cousin and her husband, until they both died. Yes, they were elderly (so am I!) but appeared to be reasonably healthy with no major red flags.
        Because we don’t know what we don’t know, acting conservatively seems like a good idea to me.

  8. Come on Jack. I’ve got my sleeve rolled up and OSH tattooed on my injection site. Require proof of vaccination and let’s go have fun!

  9. Spare just a moment for some highest-level context on this dialogue.

    We’re all pilots and/or aviation enthusiasts, which means the Venn diagram describing what we have in common is a 95%+ overlap. I happen to live/fly in a bright blue part of our great nation, and my political affiliations roughly match. Due to variables and constraints that Sociology doctoral candidates will be discussing for the next hundred years, our generation’s responses to Covid seem to track in parallel to our political affiliations (spoiler alert: that doesn’t go well for us). I’m no exception in my own assessment of risk and appropriate mitigations. Meanwhile, any driver of a Mooney, Skylane, Champ, or Quicksilver is worthy of my open minded consideration, regardless of the lever s/he pulls or the hat s/he wears. What I’m reading in these comments generally reflects similar respect, appreciation, and deference from across this AvWeb community.

    Were that same measured approach applied to this debate beyond our little bubble, I think we’d all be faring much better through this crisis. Thanks to everyone for bringing their justified passions to this important discussion, and deploying them in a manner that is constructive and collaborative. Let’s all do what we can to extend this attitude beyond the borders of AvWeb.

  10. There’s nothing to discuss, and no
    decision to be made. Air shows
    should be cancelled, along with
    all sports events, tournaments,
    conventions, exhibitions, shows,
    performances, and parades, until
    the pandemic is over. The loss in
    revenue pales beside loss of life.
    Without health there is no wealth.
    And even if you don’t get sick or
    die, your presence at such events
    greatly increases the likelihood that
    others will. Your right to do as you
    please entails a corresponding duty
    not to deprive anyone of their right
    to do likewise. Hence you are your
    neighbor’s keeper, as they are and
    must be yours. On earth as in the
    sky, the rules are the same for all
    of us. Therefore, air shows (et al)
    must be grounded until further notice.

    • By this logic, we should never drive a car, because there is a non-zero risk of hurting yourself or someone else.

  11. Many very well-reasoned and -expressed arguments presented here. To me, it boils down to this:

    SARS-CoV-2 is as impartial and implacable a threat as flying in TSTMS ALQDS. Some pilots do it and get lucky; a lot don’t. RADAR and sferics are the masks and sanitizer that can help to keep you from blundering into trouble, but the best policy is to stay on the ground.

    Frankly, I hope EAA decides it’s just too soon to bring everyone back in 2021. If Airventure is responsible for even a minor-spreader outbreak, we will be no better than Sturgis.

  12. AirVenture 2021 ?

    The dates are fixed (26 JY – 1st Ag). Tickets are on sale ! Will it happen ? Should it happen ?

    Aviation is my passion. Jack and Paul are good guys. I’d like to see them at this event. That’s if I show up! Giving decisions like this the maximum time to contemplate is important for all of us.

    EAA, AOPA, NAFI, SAFE, etc are all great organizations, but not perfect. The same goes for all individuals, groups, and organizations – even these political parties that a lot of folks like to associate themselves with. The big aviation events are great and in some ways resemble utopia to all of us AV nuts even if they do have a touch of chaos built in, even in the times prior to covid. Actually the small shows have a real advantage in a way, as they do eliminate some of that chaos factor. But covid is taking their toll on them in the same way. This crisis has no favorites.

    As has been pointed out in comments prior to this one, the individual people are the problem. (That’s us by the way).

    EAA is a big organization, and AirVenture (Oshkosh if you like) is the event of the year for EAA. It brings in a lot of income to keep things going. Things like the Museum, Chapters, facilities and grounds, Young Eagles, Old Eagles, and let’s not forget the builders! Although AirVenture is important to EAA financially, hopefully we all know that the most important ingredient are the members, members who are a lot like the average individual living in the USA. All of us with more ignorance than we really need or even want if we took a hard look! If necessary EAA will get by if it has to without AirVenture 2021 or even without the 2022 event but it will definitely start getting a bit tougher. EAA has a great Board of Directors. Take a look at some of their Bio’s! Educate yourself. I believe they will not let EAA die, and along our future GA flyways we all hope to have an even stronger AV community.

    So how can we educate ourselves? Education happens only one person at a time. We might be in a classroom or webinar with hundreds of others, (in the case of AirVenture’s of the past, 100’s of thousands!) but not all of us will come away with a new and more importantly a right and better way of seeing the focus of the intended education.

    In dealing with our present covid crisis, should the Federal, State, or/and Local governments dictate the rules? My opinion is no. We as individuals, dictate who comes into our houses and whether they wear masks etc. AirVenture grounds are private grounds. EAA takes a legal risk in allowing who enter if the 2021 event happens. Should those who might attend, have to show proof of testing negative? Should they be asked to state if they have had the virus already? Should they be asked if they have any symptoms or had any recent questionable contacts with others who might be carrierers? Should they be required to wear masks under certain conditions of assembly? Should they maintain six feet etc.? Should they be tested on a daily or other periodic time during their attendance? Only my hairdresser and “The Shadow” knows for sure and they ain’t talking!

    So will we, as long time volunteers, attend if AirVenture 2021 gets past May 15th? Maybe, but we will probably come a few weeks early and reserve the right to disappear if it starts to get too crazy. Our real concern is will we be smart enough to leave or will we just let the water temp cooking us (like the frogs) continue to slowly rise. The answer as the song says, I guess, is “Blowing in the Wind” !

    In summary, do we need an answer to Paul’s question “A Normal AirVenture For 2021?” Paul is no dummy and I’m pretty sure he knew the answer before he wrote the article. There is no way AirVenture 2021 will be normal !

    Will it happen is the question that no one knows for sure. Will it be safe regardless of all the efforts of EAA staff and its volunteers is another question that is probably more important. So how can we educate each other between now and then? Real caring about our fellow EAA’ers and aviators is the key as well as a key to life generally. Learn to care by finding the truth rather than going with what each of us thinks they know at this moment in time. Dig deep in your gut before undertaking the journey toward those hallowed grounds.

    The two comments above this one don’t leave any decisions. The choice to hold it is up to EAA. The choice to attend is open to all.
    Jack (EAA), “May the Force be with you!” (to make the right decision).