AirVenture: A Year Ago, A Year From Now


If this were a normal year, I know exactly what I’d be doing on this Sunday afternoon. I’d be in our press trailer in the media ghetto at Oshkosh trying to chase down the guy to hook up the electricity. Every year I promise myself to get it done on Sunday and every year, it happens on Monday afternoon. This I will not miss.

I would also be trying to trim the lines on our outside AVweb poster so it looks less droopy. I never seem to succeed, even though I was in the Sea Scouts. I don’t miss that, either. (Neither the poster nor the Sea Scouts, especially that boat we nearly sunk in the Chesapeake Bay. Maybe that’s why I switched to airplanes.)

I also won’t miss the first person coming into the trailer and complaining about the “traffic being worse than I remember.” That’s because we seem constitutionally incapable of realizing the traffic is always heavy on Monday and if you want to miss it, don’t hit the joint at 9 a.m. Also, I’m happy to skip hearing someone ask “do you think there are [more] [fewer] people?” and me resisting the urge to attach to this probably wrong observation the future of the Western world’s economies. Thankfully, that burden has been lifted.

This is starting to sound like a count-your-blessings sorta blog of the kind I rarely write. But what it really is is a polite effort to not get too maudlin about AirVenture not happening this year. I’m seeing lots of sentimental messages go by on Facebook and Twitter but—and I don’t mean to offend here—I’m not joining the pity party. EAA made the right decision, albeit a difficult one, and the rest of it is just ‘bidness. Instead of an exhausting week that forces us to cram a month of deadlines into three weeks, we have a spare week which I plan to use productively. That’s an admittedly selfish reaction, but it’s just me here on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

My worries are actually more mundane than emotional. I find myself fretting more about the pandemic’s impact on GA businesses—and all businesses—throughout the year than my personal indulgence of riding around AirVenture in a golf cart or worrying too much about people not connecting at their annual avfest. I know many are in desperate straits for social contact centered on airplanes, but many are also sick in hospitals and thousands of families have been tragically touched by COVID-19. We gotta long way to go.

The multitude of businesses that occupy the trade hangars have other marketing options, but they’ll feel the loss of that one week in July. Lots of virtual events going on, but we all know they’re not the same. Oshkosh itself will take a battering beyond that which has already impacted cities of its size throughout the country, especially the hotel and restaurant sectors. (About $170 million annually, according to Wisconsin University.)

And on to 2021. I thought EAA’s decision to start advance ticket sales was a bullish bit of good cheer and shows a welcome, confident outlook. The thing about gloom is, it sets in at the last minute just as effectively as it does months ahead of the fact. So might as well proceed apace and veer off at the last minute if needed. One of our YouTube followers arose in high dudgeon at the notion that it would take a vaccine or other intervention to bring AirVenture back in full throat. Jack Pelton and I discussed that in this interview in May.  Two months later, I don’t feel any different. 

We’re running a poll today and if I were to guess, about 30 percent of respondents would go to AirVenture this morning if it were running. I’m not sure if I would go, but I might because distancing would be at least somewhat doable in a lightly attended show. I wouldn’t be in the hangars, however. I don’t know if a quiet, sparsely attended show is economically practical, given the scale of the thing. But it would be better than no show at all.

My crystal ball is no better than yours. But my hopeful guess is that therapies and vaccines will emerge by early 2021 to make next year’s AirVenture a go. Depending on how effective those are, the show may struggle for a year or two to get back to 2019 record levels. And it may look and feel a little different, too. But there’s no reason to believe it can’t eventually reprise its former glory.

Just not this year.  

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  1. Thanks Paul. Concerning AirVenture: to borrow a lyric from James Taylor’s Mexico, “I never really been but I’d sure like to go”

    While I have attended Sun ‘n Fun the past several years, my summer work schedule prevents me from heading to Oshkosh in July. Hopefully when I retire in a few years, I’ll be able to experience the world’s greatest aviation event for myself.

    And when I do, I want it to be the full experience as in AirVenture’s of past years, not some scaled back, limited affair. Sure, I’ll wear a mask if necessary and take sensible precautions (of the sort that we all should probably be doing at large gatherings anyway, Covid-19 or not) but the whole point of the event is for folks like me to OD on all things aviation and just have fun with other like minded folks.

    For that, I am prepared to wait and like Paul, I choose to be hopeful.

  2. Paul, I share your sentiments. Prior to Covid-19, I was scheduled to be at every major GA event expecting a banner 2020 year. For those of us whose livelihood to a significant extent depended on these shows to seal deals, network, and maintain current aviation business relationships, all of that has changed. I have been furloughed, and have only one choice that was not of my choosing. However, it is the only logical option as well. That is, focus on 2021 events.

    Regarding AirVenture specifically, it is the “mother lode” of aviation business for many companies. Yeah, we have the internet, Zoom/Skype meetings, and emails. But we had modern technology from its existence through AirVenture 2019. In spite of that ever evolving technology, people still want to meet, see, measure up, confirm, and investigate companies, products, and most importantly the people who are representing whatever we are buying from or selling to. Those vibes cannot be transmitted through cyberspace…in spite of the insistence of techies, their companies, and technology claiming their technology can replace the human handshake. AirVenture proves that overwhelmingly. As a result, my research has revealed to me as a former “Director of Marketing and Sales” that many aviation companies obtain 60-80% of their yearly revenue directly or indirectly from AirVenture.

    There is many reasons why Ford, Boeing, John Deere, and Airbus, in addition to the considerable small companies of 1-50 employees make such a massive investment in Oshkosh. I too, will sorely miss the relationships on a personal level. But I also do not have the similar deadlines, logistical challenges, and technology problems to overcome this year. Oddly, to me that is part of the relational side of AirVenture…those incredible on site workloads…and I am going to miss those hassles as well. But not in the same way I am missing the friendship and business interaction. Like you Paul, no pity party. And, I struggle everyday like all Americans on how I am personally, financially handle, survive, and cope through the remainder of the year.

    As pilots, we have learned to deal with very fluid, ever changing circumstances, being taught about many aspects of maintaining situational awareness at all times. That is the art of learning to fly, getting proficient, maintaining, and hopefully, increasing proficiency. Covid-19 is a pandemic from a virus of which the world has never experienced previously. What we do know, the only way to slow its infection rate is to mask, consistently maintain realistic, effective social distancing practices, and performing hygiene at a level most have never been used to doing. Being in a crowd is violating one of the physics of those three basic metrics. There is no way AirVenture can happen without compromising one or all of the three basic requirements necessary to avoid getting personally sick as much as possible and contributing to the community spread of this virus that will impact far more people than ourselves.

    There is nothing to debate about those basic physical facts at this point. The EAA has come to a similar conclusion. They have maintained Covid-19 situational awareness, like many of us. And, instead of wishful thinking, hoping that “opening up the economy” can somehow be done minus the three basic things that cannot be avoided if we want some sort of control over this virus, the EAA, along with many members knows what has to be done…and are doing it. So am I.

    Therefore, I have no wishful thinking that I can bypass what has to be done. I am living in a Covid-19 infested world. it is in my backyard. it is affecting millions of people, and should I challenge the basic physics of what has proven to work ( in slowing the infection rate), I will have to face the stress, anguish, and unknowns wondering if that burger eaten in a restaurant, loaf of bread purchased at the store, or airshow participation will kill me, or my wife, or my family, or the stranger I don’t even know sitting, standing next to me or within close proximity, somehow in my sphere of influence.

    As pilots, we know the best way to survive a crash is to maintain control as long as we can, flying the airplane as much as long as possible into the crash. No guarantee you will live, but being a participant in what has proven to work more often than not, really increases the odds of staying alive minimizing injury. Denial of your circumstances, failure to do what minimally needs to be done in an aviation crisis statistically kills.

    The EAA decision mandated a response from us. We cannot show up at Oshkosh this week with wishful thinking. AirVenture will not be there. They made a decision for us that many would not have made on their own. I am thankful for that wisdom and courage.

    Covid-19, like flying offers very little opportunity for safe wishful thinking. Therefore, for me, I am looking forward to 2021, planning for a renewal of all those human relationships that no amount of technology can replace. And will do my part flying myself as far as I can into the Covid-19 crash, with the hope and odds more in my favor for a positive outcome during 2020 and early 2021.

  3. I have never attended AirVenture – would love to… someday. But this year Spirit of Aviation week did something like 50 webinars, all recorded for distribution. It looks like they’ve been doing recorded webinar thing for a while (hundreds and hundreds of them up and online @ but I never knew about it before Spirit of Aviaition week 2020. I appreciate all that content hugely and looking forward to seeing these offerings as an onramp for a future build.

  4. Though my general indifference to crowds and air shows is established, I still offer condolences to those who do rely on them for business and camaraderie. Here’s a short flight I took recently through the book dust from my past post-grad work long ago and if interested, I hope helps pass some time in quarantine.

    Ants and bees.

    Ants are the largest group of “eusocial” insects, who form complex societies with overlapping generations, cooperative brood care and reproductive division of labor. Nearly all ant species live this way.
    Black garden ants (Lasius niger), quickly adjust their normal routines when members of the colony develop a fungal infection. Their colonies naturally include both nurses and foragers, who either stay home to care for young ants or venture out to find food. The latter group sometimes picks up pathogens during their excursions, but when they do, both nurses and foragers swiftly react and go into survival mode, apparently oblivious to their temporary loss of rights and freedoms under the Colony Directives of Ant Behavior, written by their elders.

    That response begins before the infected ants even become sick. Repeating, that response begins before the infected ants even become sick. Within one day of exposure, the infected foragers start spending more time outside the nest than usual, further limiting their contact with other members of the colony.

    However they knew, that isolating themselves so early could make a big difference in stemming an outbreak — was an opportunity many human communities missed during the current coronavirus pandemic. And it isn’t just infected ants who changed their behavior. Unexposed foragers also reduced their social contact after their colleagues picked up the spores, researchers found, while nurse ants began moving the brood deeper into the nest.

    Into our wheelhouse of aviation as pilots, or honey bees, (try that label next time meeting a fellow pilot, hee hee) – one of the most famous of all eusocial insects, whose colonies can fall victim to a variety of bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites, behave as do the ground-bound ants, because the dense population of a honey bee hive means quick detection — and quick action — is needed to prevent a disease from running amok. Once the bees identify where a telltale smell is coming from, they’ll remove and isolate any infected larvae from the hive.

    Something to aspire to for the anti-maskers, anti social-distancers of today, maybe?

    • “Something to aspire to for the anti-maskers, anti social-distancers of today, maybe?”

      Sure – if you aspire to be an ant.

      I wear a mask when out in public. I have a very small circle of people with whom I get closer than 12 feet, let alone 6.

      I reject a collectivist mentality. For me. If somebody else wants to live in a commune, I say more power to him/her/whatever. But woe betide the misguided soul who would compel me to live life his/her way.

      With apologies to Jim – and to Burger King – “Have it your way” is the American way. It’s not a bug; it’s a feature.

      It’s the freedom/responsibility dynamic that defines adulthood.

      • Apology accepted YARS. So, you believe the conception of blending the virtues of the ant/bee colonies with the common sense derived by evaluation of best practices known and proven to slow your participation in community spread of Covid-19, and applying them in your daily living. So do I.

        I don’t aspire to be an ant nor a bee ( however, the flying aspects of the bee are intriguing). I don’t think you have those aspirations either. But we can learn from them some useful lessons that have practical application to our present Covid-19 circumstances.

        I am glad you have those qualities gained by evaluation, duty, personal conscious, regardless of how or where those motivations they came from. I would call it a response to duty to your family, me, and all those around you. I am happy that you wear a mask, stay out of crowded arenas, carefully chosen friends with whom you share your space with.

        Absolutely true…Its the freedom/responsibility dynamic that defines adulthood. Operating under those principles is common sense not derived from a collectivist mentality. But that action has to be eventually done rather than debated and just talked about. Unfortunately, not all will do something that collectively, for now, benefits all. And that has proven to be deadly for many and a growing economic disaster for the country as a whole.

        I don’t think we owe Burger King any apologies. They have gotten and will continue to get a lot of mileage out of “have it your way”. We are just helping them out spreading the word.

      • ‘But woe betide the misguided soul who would compel me to live life his/her way.’

        Which defines the ‘collectivist’ group-think of anti-maskers succinctly.

        Though I dislike even having to use public bathrooms occasionally, YARS, let alone living in a commune of your imagining, I’m still grateful for the collectivist mentality of the Founding fathers, my parents, my platoon in our battalion, the scientists studying Covid-19 for the collective welfare of all, and many others I can’t think of because now I have to grasp that our federal government follows a doc who talks about alien dna and astral sex…Geezus!

        Honestly, will this madness ever end???

        • “Honestly, will this madness ever end???”

          Shortly before he died, my father left me these pearls:
          “I’m glad that I’m on my way out, instead of on my way in.”

          • I empathize with his insight. My condolences, Yars.

            NASA is launching the rover “Perseverance” tomorrow on a big mission to Mars. Maybe we can sneak onboard for the trip out, then ride Musk’s Tesla back so we can avoid the election buildup (I hope the new prez is a ham sandwich at this point) and Covid-19 and return to say, “Uh, we miss anything?”

            God knows I need a vacation from it all.

  5. Greetings from Whitmann Field. I write this from a friend’s home where I am staying, about ½ mile from the approach end of 36 at KOSH. Today it is not “OSHKOSH!” and all that that suggests, but just a quiet rural airport. For the last 17 years I would have been here 3 weeks ago setting up an aircraft display and all that that entails. Now, it’s eerily quiet here and I mean REALLY quiet. Instead of hearing and watching an F-35 doing backflips literally over my head, all I can hear is a mosquito buzzing around my ear. It is silent, very silent. Today, Oshkosh is just another Wisconsin burg going about its’ business. The EAA Museum is dark and the airport grounds, instead of being a gigantic aircraft and RV parking lot, looks like a well-kept golf course. The only airplanes in sight are the F-86 and P-80 “jets on a stick”, the F-89 Scorpion and the C-47 on the perfect grass. All the gates are padlocked and there are literally no humans to be seen. I went to college near here 50 years ago before OSHKOSH and without all the AirVenture craziness and it feels very familiar to me, but today more for that rather than the annual EAA craziness.

  6. As of a few minutes ago more than 30% of Avweb poll respondents said they would go to AirVenture if it were held today. I know the pilot community is conservative but I didn’t realize how many think that they are immortal. My mantra is “what if you’re wrong?”.

    • And non-passengers’ mantra is “what if you crash?”
      Thankfully, they’re not compelled to board, at gunpoint.
      And thankfully, the rest of us are not – yet- prohibited from flying.
      God save us all from those others who know what’s best for US.

  7. Last night our EAA chapter decided to continue to cancel any chapter Young Eagle flights until the first of the year. It was a tough decision because we had hoped that the infection rates would have lowered enough by September to have allowed us to have our biggest event that flys our local high school aviation program seniors, many whom have never been in a small airplane before. We won’t abandon them but will simply fly them in the spring when more is known or there may even be vaccinations available. But, I did point out that if we could somehow do it we would have been THE BIGGEST AVIATION EVENT IN THE NATION. HA! 782 could have knocked off Airventure, Sun,n,fun, Aviation Nation, and all the other events as being number one, Kings of Aviation.
    We could dream can’t we? Somehow I don’t Jack is too worried though. See you all next year.