Although EAA expects to be well positioned to carry on with AirVenture in 2021, association chairman Jack Pelton says a COVID-19 vaccine may have to be fully fielded to return the event to its pre-2020 size. Before canceling the 2020 show, Pelton said the association examined every conceivable option to pull it off using physical distancing and intense sanitization, but all were deemed too risky. “We don’t have a solution that would let you do that. There are so many people and so many touch points. If you look at our shower houses in the campgrounds, the porta potties, the food courts. We believe that it is currently not doable,” Pelton said in a wide-ranging video interview on Friday.
He said a COVID-19 vaccine would likely be a game changer, but more than a year out, it’s impossible to say if one will be available or widely distributed. “We just don’t have enough information to know how this is going to manifest. Every opinion from it will run its course and become no different than the normal flu season to we don’t know how it’s going to manifest itself and we’re going to have a tricky road forward trying to figure it out,” Pelton said. For now, the event is a go until circumstances dictate otherwise.
But it may look different. “Do you have something that is significantly different than what you’ve had in the past? Worst case, it doesn’t happen. But is there a way you can limit crowd sizes, which changes the whole dynamic of where we are today. It may look more like what it was in Rockford,” Pelton said.
Wisconsin threw a curve ball into the game on Thursday when a state Supreme Court decision ruled that the governor could not legally extend a stay-at-home order into the Memorial Day weekend. This raised the tantalizing question: Would that change things to reverse the cancellation decision? “No, it really wouldn’t,” said Pelton. “If you look at what happened in the state of Wisconsin this week, I would call it political jousting. You have a Democratic governor, you got a Republican controlled house. They took them to task saying the governor didn’t have the power to put in a safer-at-home policy through the Memorial Day weekend so that got it cancelled immediately.” But the same order authorized counties and cities to invoke their own business and event restrictions, but not before some bars in the state enjoyed brief standing-room-only business. “Wisconsin isn’t even into phase one yet based on their own dashboard and their own data. Our decision was the right thing to do based on the data,” Pelton said.
Although it didn’t envision a pandemic tanking AirVenture, EAA has in place a contingency plan in case the show was impacted by unforeseen events. “We looked at … could it be terrorism or any kind of a shutdown that could occur because of world events. We have worked hard on that for the last five years and quite frankly, I’m very proud of the fact that our fruits have come to bear and we’re going to be fine getting through this.” Although EAA staffers are working from home and the museum is closed, Wisconsin’s opening up plan calls for easing of restrictions going into June and July and some EAA events may be scheduled, but with smaller groups.
Still, despite the staggering impact on aviation overall, Pelton believes general aviation will show a resilient streak. “The one thing that is foundational that I don’t believe is going to change as we come out of this is general aviation as a fundamental involvement or activity … probably will not change. There’s things you could think through with the concerns about traveling … those 500-mile trips may become even more relevant to general aviation than they have in the past,” Pelton said.