EAA’s Tough (Right) Call


For reasons entirely selfish, I was happy to hear EAA cancel AirVenture 2020. Now I don’t have to continue struggling with the decision to get there, how to navigate the place with minimal risk or whether to go at all. For more altruistic reasons, I’m sorry it has come to this. AirVenture is the world’s most important aviation show and punches way above its weight in importance to the people, companies and organizations in this wide-ranging industry.

EAA and Jack Pelton deserve respect for making this difficult decision as early as they did. This will allow companies to reconfigure, retrench and re-plan their marketing efforts for the rest of the year. Attendees can now stand down and stop wondering about if and when. It’s done.

I don’t see how it could have gone any other way. You might recall that the Olympics cancellation announcement was made in late March and the impetus came from the athletes, not the organizers. AirVenture’s equivalent of the athletes would be exhibitors and performers. EAA didn’t say if any had backed out but based on the Sun ‘n Fun experience, we know many were considering it. Think about this: If you’re an aviation company, you’re making a risk assessment for your employees if you expect them to attend and occupy those crowded hangars for a week. Calculating the real risk is elusive at best, impossible at worst. The calculus is to imagine the risk is simply overstated and not worth worrying about for the sake of sales and a little partying. Or that it’s higher than we all imagine.

I asked my own boss, Belvoir editorial VP Tim Cole, what we would have done if the show had gone on. After a thoughtful pause, he said we would have to cover it somehow, but no one would be asked to attend at the risk of personal safety. We would improvise around it, just as every company in the industry will now have to adapt, adjust and retool.

Thinking about it personally, I am now getting more comfortable with the idea of flying commercially. I have masks, gloves, sanitizer and wipes and, I hope, sufficient awareness. But venturing into those exhibitor hangars? Forget it. If the show were even moderately crowded with people from all 50 states and 90 countries, I think it’s not a question of any disease transmission, but how much. And this in exposing an older demographic with widespread incidence of underlying medical conditions that have proved so lethal with this disease. This risk assessment may very well be delusional, because there is no data on which to base or compare the risk between an airliner and a crowded hangar. We all have our demons.

Here in Florida, the economy is set to re-engage this week, in stages. But it’s not at all clear to me what’s much different from when it paused a month ago. We have a little more testing, cases are rising, but tracing and containment isn’t planned. Distancing is still encouraged, but not enforced. With 50 states having what appear to be 50 variations on this theme, I’m ever more convinced the COVID-19 worry will be with us for a while and none of us should be surprised if things are not normal even into next year.  

I think everyone is tiring of distancing and compliance fatigue is setting in. The poll we’re currently running asking whether EAA’s decision was the right one exactly mirrors national polling showing about 60 percent favor continuing lockdown policies rather than accelerated relaxation. Like it or not, most of us are willing to do it.

A word here about comments. Like everything else, it seems, the COVID-19 crisis is polarized and perfectly politicized. When we published the initial story, a few readers took this over the top and attacked us, EAA and Jack Pelton. You are free to comment here and criticize respectfully. But I’ll ask you for restraint. And comments that are not will be deleted. I’m sorry it has come to that, but this is a moderated forum and will be moderated.

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  1. Paul: Thank you and I agree that AirVenture made the right call. I know that other Avweb readers will disagree. To them, I say do you really think that Jack Pelton and the EAA folks based their incredibly tough decision to cancel on the so called hysterical, left leaning, out-to-get-Trump media? Or perhaps they based their decision on the best scientific data and public health guidance available to them? I mean, c’mon,

    As an aviation enthusiast, I don’t dispute that the decision really sucks. But it is a necessary decision in order to save lives. You can be angry and indignant, if you must. But I don’t think that any virus cares much about anyone’s anger or indignation.

    Everyone stay safe and healthy – we are all in this together.

  2. It was the right decision for many reasons for the EAA to cancel. Yesterday I was convinced G/A and the airline industry was finished. It was the airlines that brought us this pandemic and society is thinking twice about travel. And who has money left to spend on personal travel, (tourism), and aviation? How do you cut capacity and not lose money? As I write this, I learned Mr. Buffet has jumped out of the airplane, and sold off his entire holdings of the airline industry. That is a very bleak outcome for the airlines. However, that leaves every reason for G/A to thrive. There are definitely going to be very few airlines left to serve the country, so G/A should be able to continue forward as time moves on. General aviation has the added benefit of a relatively sterile mode of transportation.

    • Your comments on G/A may be spot on. My company’s DO and higher ups keep telling our pilots that our clients and owners are just waiting for the restrictions to be lifted and plan to fly their planes a lot. Not much flying happening now but the company’s business model has enabled us not to lay off or cut pay. Company is also planning trips in a way to minimize or eliminate any airlining to position crews.

  3. The decision is not brave, it’s not courageous, it’s not even based on what we now know as far as the nature of the virus. We are emerging from the flu season and the late July time is historically safe to be outside and enjoying the sunlight as any other year. There is zero evidence that this year will be different. None. Nada.

    I assume that the decision is based on money; that attendance will be down so profits will be down. That’s fine; but I would have respect for EAA if they had expressed money as the reason. Personally I am not renewing my EAA membership because the only reason I do renew it is for for AirVenture. It’s unfortunate that the organization based n freedom and managed risks has succumbed to the irrational.

    • Agree with you Mark. Too busy to watch cable TV, rely on other people to keep me informed on the virus hysteria. I’m heavily employed in the Aviation industry and never been busier.

      Once again, reporting favors the negative and the positive gets ignored. There was once a time when people thought Pilots are ‘Fearless Leaders’. Fortunately the ones in my circles still are.

      !!!!Freight Dawgs Rule!!!!

      • Just like 9/11, it’s the over reaction that ultimately damages the 99.99% of us personally. We still have not recovered from that panic as we see with TFR’s, GA airport fences, and TSA making passengers remove their belts and shoes.

        EAA does an outstanding job. Unfortunately, once again, GA will be trounced by something that has nothing to do with GA.

        • Ignorance kills. The old codger vs. young person rate at OSH is pretty steep; I’m one of the former. Over 100K will be dead of this, probably 125K, in the US alone. That makes 9/11 and, indeed, the Vietnam war, look mighty tame.
          And you are all for crowds. Yay, you.

    • I have much respect for Paul when it comes to aviation but this isn’t about aviation. This is about Chicken Little Culture. And I agree with you 100%. Common logic says if grocery stores and what some entity decides what is an essential business can stay open, then it should be about personal choice. I also agree with you this is all about money. Or the lack of what might have come in as a result of the Scare Factor that seems to be so prevalent with at least half our population. If EAA had come clean with the real reason, it would be more palatable. My membership doesn’t end for several months but, I may do as you and not re-up. This is much the same as not voting for a politician that lies to me. I’m done with that.

    • You do realize that Covid-19 (Corona Virus) is not the flu (Influenza Virus) – that it being a novel virus, nobody has even partial immunity to it from prior exposure to variants; that according to WHO statistics, it has a 10% death rate among those confirmed by test as having caught it; that it is just beginning to spread to rural America from the urban areas by secondary (person to person) contagion; that the USA, as a nation, this past weekend experienced it’s highest daily death toll, that rural hospitals don’t have the resources to treat Covid-19.

      “Just the facts, Ma’am. Just the Facts.”

      • Here in the USA, anyone that dies from any cause gets tested. If they show a positive for the antibodies, then they are listed as a CV19 death. That’s one of the reasons how a 0.05% rate can easily get inflated to an implausible 10%.

        “Good Intentions” being made from bad data are not laudable; in fact, the proverb is that they line the road to …

        • Based on US infection/death counts, the death rate is 5%, an exponential amount greater than flu deaths. This is not the flu; the burden to the health care system is 1,000 times greater than the flu. The month to month annual death comparison reveal the huge burden of Covid-19. Same with hospitalization rates. It is real; not chicken little.

        • “Here in the USA, anyone that dies from any cause gets tested.“

          Actually, that’s not true. This is not a “CSI” TV show. Each state has their own criteria of what tests to run and when. Generally, only if a person dies for unknown reasons or under suspicious circumstances is some higher level of post-mortem exam run to determine the cause of death.

          Plus, there is no one “test” that can determine a cause of death. A test for Covid-19 will not tell you they actually died of the flu, and vice-versa. No state has the resources to run hundreds of individual tests on every man, woman, and child who passes away.

          In the case of Covid-19, there are not enough tests available so they’re reserved for the living. In NYC in particular, anyone who died at-home was not tested for Covid-19. This means the death rate due to Covid-19 is being under-reported.

          Now, many of those “at home” deaths were people that would’ve died “at home” anyway (old age, heart attack, stroke, etc.) But even if you subtract the known Covid-19 fatalities, the overall death rate in NYC is several times higher than normal. Which means a lot of those “at home” deaths were due to Covid-19 but were not counted.

      • The WHO statistics are garbage based on bad information as they are missing the vast majority of the mild/no symptom cases in the denominator. For confirming “facts” of this, see the latest population wide antibody tests of NY and CA. The fatal rate is somewhere lower than 1%. And, ‘fact’, most of that >1% is made up of people with preexisting conditions (age, over-weight, diabetes, or other chronic health problems)
        Still a bad deal, but not the end of the world as we used to know it. There was a time when all of us got the flu for the first time, and since we are still here, survived it. For those folks with preexisting conditions, it is good to be careful. For me it is good citizenship to use caution to not be a “typhoid Mary”. I am not overly worried , because we will all eventually be exposed, and I do not have preexisting conditions.

        As for the EAA I am tired of people throwing “money” out as a pejorative somehow evil motivation. You have obviously never had to make payroll or fund the operations of an enterprise. I for one am happy to see EAA financially successful so they can continue to provide the programs and content I love to consume. That includes Airventure. I also don’t see how Airventure could have gone forward in the current climate of fear and politics. A real shame.
        I will renew and be back in 2021!

        • Considering that there are not FDA-approved antibody tests in the U.S., and the FDA only recently clamped down on the number of garbage tests out there, I would take any survey of antibody test results with a grain of salt.

      • A 10% death rate? Not by a long shot.

        1. Without UNIVERSAL testing, we simply cannot KNOW the death rate. Every fraction needs a denominator.
        2. Among those tested AND found to be positive, (66,263 U.S. cases, as of this morning), there have been 3,846 deaths ATTRIBUTED to COVID-19. That works out to a 5.86% fatality rate.
        3. Studies suggest that the actual number of positives is 8 to 10 times the number of confirmed cases. Is this is true, then the actual mortality rate would be well under 1%.

        • I had a long response typed out, but an accidental key-press deleted it…

          I agree with you that the actual mortality rate is much lower than being reported (and perhaps significantly less, since people are only being testing after exhibiting multiple symptoms), but the mortality rate isn’t actually the problem. The problem is that no one has any natural immunity to it and it is apparently very contagious, so even if it had the exact same hospitalization rate of the flu, it can (and in fact does) overwhelm our healthcare system.

          So until either a vaccine or treatment can be developed, the only way to keep our healthcare system from collapsing is to prevent the spread of the virus by keeping our distance from each other. And that is obviously rather unworkable at a big event like AirVenture.

    • EAA President Jack Pelton stated the basis for his decision to cancel AirVenture Oshkosh 2020:

      “As your leader, I see no clear path to meet our own requirements to insure the health and safety expectations our organization demands for our employees, members, volunteers, exhibitors and attendees. That includes sanitization, separation and personal protection requirements.
      My conclusion is, like in any good flight planning, don’t take the risk. Therefore, I have no choice but to cancel AirVenture 2020” (Pelton, 2020).

      There is no need to assume anything about his decision. Mr. Pelton provided reasons supporting his decision, which are objectively based on science and fact. I invite you to review his decision on the EAA website.

      Further protestation despite evidence to the contrary points to bias beyond the reach of reason.


      Pelton, J. (2020, May 1). We don’t gamble, we need a sure thing. Experimental Aircraft Association. https://www.eaa.org/eaa/news-and-publications/eaa-news-and-aviation-news/news/05-01-2020-We-Dont-Gamble-We-Need-A-Sure-Thing

    • Mark: Neither Paul nor anyone on here thus far characterized the decision as brave or courageous, even though there is a reasonable argument that it qualifies.

      Paul wrote that it was a tough (as in difficult or gut wrenching) decision and you assume much to say that the decision was based on money. Of course money played a role (it always does) but if you don’t believe that other considerations, such as the safety and well being of thousands of attendees and exhibitors didn’t enter into the equation, then apparently you place a low value on human life and health.

      “There is zero evidence that this year will be different. None. Nada.”

      “…the organization… has succumbed to the irrational.”

      Such comments are worthy of Internet Troll Hall of Fame status — they themselves are irrational. And absurd. And flat out wrong.

    • Mark, many things are known about this virus and knowledge is improving daily. Among the things still unknown is the seasonal or lack of seasonal behavior of the virus. Breakouts in Australia and elsewhere south of the equator during their summer season should signal everyone to be cautious about any assumption that this will die away as we approach summer. It may not behave at all like the flu. Additionally, Airventure depends upon hundreds of volunteers who need to start showing up right about now in order to perform those functions essential to preparing the fairgrounds for the big event. The majority of those volunteers are retirees, seniors in the age group the virus has had the greatest adverse impact upon. Preparation for Airventure also requires a significant financial outlay by EAA. If the recent loosening of restrictions in many states results in a strong rebound of COVID-19 viral infections the restrictions on travel, social distancing, and banning of large public events could be imposed again, sending that money right down the drain. All things considered I think the decision by EAA management to cancel was a prudent one and I congratulate them for having made it in time for all of us to rethink our summer activities.

  4. “It’s unfortunate that the organization based on freedom and managed risks has succumbed to the irrational”

    3 posts in and we have already made the Air Venture cancelation a political purity test……sigh

  5. As long as it was a business decision by EAA to cancel, then so be it. My current company and my first company after 9/11 stay/stayed in business by not flying trips at a loss. Many small freight carriers folded after 9/11 doing trips at a loss. Would not be surprised if that happens again after this current event. If that many possible spectators are not planning to attend due to the current concerns, it makes little sense to proceed if the event is going to lose money. Now if it was a political decision. . .

  6. Non political comment incoming:
    This was the right decision based on the real demographics of the average age of those attending. Like it or not it’s an older one, and older folks seem more susceptible to this dreaded disease. Kudos to Jack and crew over there, this was a tough decision but it was the right one.

  7. It is unfortunate that the varied opinions are based on emotions rather than science-based facts. There is evidence of how the Covid-19 spreads when you review the areas of the outbreak of people testing positive where they are close proximity. (Meatpacking plants, nursing homes, etc.).

    What needs to be done is more widespread testing to it can be further determined how wide-spread the cases are OR are not. We just don’t know how many of the population are positive.

    Based upon the limited data of the spread at this point, Jack Pelton made the right call. I believe it had nothing to do with politics or money, but what was the right thing to do for the safety of EAA members, public, vendors, and EAA staff. I know the man and many of the staff and it was a very hard decision to make.

    It may well turn out that the virus would diminish by July, but the scope of the event and what needs to be done to prepare and conduct AirVenture needed to begin now. The data is not there to be sure the event would be safe. If you were in his shoes, would you take the risk?

    I like many, find myself in the middle of the effects of Covid-19. I am the administrator for a school district aviation/aerospace curriculum and our whole program has been turned upside down. Our local EAA chapter hosts the program where we build aircraft and conduct the AOPA high school curriculum. Students are bused to EAA Chapter 1240 Aviation Development Center during school day mornings. That program is gone for the remainder of the school year as we try to do the best we can online.

    The big question we face is what will we do in August when school is scheduled to begin? Will the virus be contained by then? Will it be safe to gather thousands of students, teachers, and staff together? I understand the weight of the decisions that need to be made. Lives are at stake and you can’t afford to take risks without hard facts.

    Thank you Jack for making the tough, but correct decision.

  8. Hi John,

    This is a big bummer as I’d been planning to attend OSH this year, after an 11-year pause. I know that that “loss” is nothing compared to what’s going on worldwide. I reluctantly agree with you, John, except for: “…but the scope of the event and what needs to be done to prepare and conduct AirVenture needed to begin now.” Preparation to hold this type of event during a pandemic would have had to have started many more months ago. As Paul points out, we still have no plan in most states to effectively test and monitor, i.e., we can’t even meet the strictures put forth by the president that he said should be met before restarting activities. Today’s news is that the president’s revised expectation is 100,000 deaths, up from 60,000. That’s not good.

  9. You are correct Jeff, much of what would have to be done would have been started months ago, and the staff was developing options as best they could. Another fact is the guidelines of the State of Wisconsin’s scheduled phase-in of reduced restrictions. I hope the frustrations of staying at home, social distancing, and the economic impact does not cause folks to abandon do what needs to be done to remain safe and healthy.

  10. The way I see it, it was the right call to cancel, and it has nothing at all to do with the virus itself. It’s simply this: EAA effectively isn’t allowed to begin the necessary grounds preparations in time, so the only other real alternative would be to reschedule it. But they scheduled it for the week they did based on school summer vacations (some of you may recall they adjusted the week slightly a few years ago for that reason). But supposing they did reschedule anyway, you know many of the vendors and performers wouldn’t be able to accommodate the new dates, so it would be a scaled back version of the show. Further, you know attendance would be down quite a bit, so all of that combined, they probably wouldn’t even break even on costs. Given all of that, I had already decided that I wasn’t going to attend this year, because it wouldn’t be worth the expense of me traveling from CT to WI for a greatly scaled-back show. And it’s an understatement for me to say that I was *really* looking forward to going this year, and had been planning to attend since last summer (when I wasn’t able to attend due to work obligations).

    So forget the arguments about EAA “caving”, or the “POLS/Dems/whoever” winning, or the media making this out to be more than it is, or even if you believe that this virus is bad. None of that really matters if the show was bound to be significantly smaller with who knows what restrictions that would have made it less enjoyable to attend. Wait until next year when it can (hopefully) go on as usual.

  11. I disagree that we should cancel the open air AirAdventure.. I understand the pressure from the political winds.. But, it’s an individual choice to go or not and Oshkosh is perfect for social distancing.. It’ll set the air show back for years to come..

    FYI: I fly professionally and take my temperature twice a day.. I had hotel reservations and was planning on attending as long as I wasn’t indicating any illness..

  12. Gotta agree it was a tough call. The problem with these kinds of decisions is that if you are careful, and nothing happens, everyone says it was not needed. If you are not careful, and lots of people get sick, you’ll have contributed to unnecessary death.

    If the event was just a lot of people going of their own free will, with absolutely no impact on other people, my libertarian instincts say “let them do it”. The reality is that a lot of the people that work there will lose their job if they don’t go. A lot of businesses would be forced to go even if they don’t want to due to competitive pressure. The people traveling there who will get infected by someone will then come in contact with others when they travel or return home.

    If we can just get the testing right, we can get back to “normal” quickly – without info, we can’t really make wise decisions. Imagine if Boeing kept flying the 737Max with no data about why they were crashing…once they got the data they understood what was needed.

    We need to put the pressure on the “leaders” to get more testing done, and this just requires a lot of $$$.

  13. There are two choices. 1. We can cower and wait for a vaccine while the economy and our freedoms go away and become more difficult to recover each day. OR 2. We stop being afraid of getting sick and protect those most vulnerable while letting nature immunize the herd and eliminate the virus as nature intended. The decision to cancel Oshkosh falls in the first choice and does nothing to help our long term prospects of getting back to the American way of life and prosperity. As a thought, We could lower the national speed limit to a max of 30 mph and make one heck of a dent in the deaths and maiming injuries each year, but what would that do to our economy? We chose to let life roll and accept the bad with the good. Needless to say, I’m very disappointing with the EAA.

  14. Thank you Jack Pelton along with the EAA board for making this tough decision. I will renew my membership with enthusiasm looking forward to 2021 with high hopes.

    It is a rare to see decisive leadership especially in a situation with still so many unknowns, a situation still evolving, and so much at stake. Decisive leadership is a rare commodity these days. It’s a pleasure to see it displayed, even when that tough decision affects me personally financially , employment wise, and passionately just because I like airplanes. That is the kind of leadership combined with the hardworking volunteerism of the EAA I can whole hardheartedly support.

    I, like many, renew my membership at Oshkosh. Sort of a yearly ritual, I look forward to. It would be easier to do it online…which I will be doing this year. But I enjoy the interaction with the volunteers. It is one of the last really personal public venues. And the EAA, year after year, has made these personal engagements a reminder of the importance, the value of engaging each other eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart, invariably with a smile.

    No amount of online technology will replace that personal contact. Airplanes, aviation, and flying requires so much trust in other folks when you really think about it. It’s nice to get an idea who you are dealing with. Oshkosh allows many of us to solidify deals, investigate new technology, appreciate individual craftsmanship, attention to detail, witness the results of dogged determination, while getting to know the giants of aviation down to the backyard innovator. I will sorely miss those experiences this year. But will be ready to give and receive a double dose of handshakes, hugs , and smiles next year.

  15. Totally agree, Paul. Some Wisconsinites feel that Pelton took a swipe at our governor, ostensibly placing some of the blame for the cancellation on his social distancing orders. For my part, I think Pelton did not really intend it that way. However, he would have saved himself–and EAA–some unnecessary rancor by just sticking with the facts with which we’re all familiar: COVID-19 is a potentially deadly enemy, and we don’t know enough about it to dismiss it lightly.

  16. I am looking forward to next year. Maybe it will be less of a mob scene because of the restrictions on crowds and we can hark back to the days when size and money were not the main focus of the organizers. Yes I am an old timer who has been going to Oshkosh on and off for the past forty five years.

  17. The picture of Airventure going forward in July against the backdrop of all major sports being cancelled, the Olympics postponed, concerts, schools, businesses etc. mostly shut down would have been the only reason I would cancel my lifetime membership with EAA.

    That said, I was planning my own airventure to two more MLB ballparks this summer in the plane – Target field, home of the Twins, and Busch stadium in St. Louis. Flying to all 29(?) ballparks is the eventual goal, trying to do two or three a year.

    Oh well, I’ll just kick back, overplan for next year and watch a game on….s#!t

  18. Pelton did the right thing. That said, it could have been handled better.

    EAA has fantastic Publications and Public Relations departments. A listing of timelines and problems with continuing with the show would help people understand the decision (nearly 5000 volunteers have to get started by May, wristbands ordered, airshow acts booked, provisions for attendance or cancellations by vendors made, NUMEROUS CONTRACTS signed (police, traffic control, FAA staffing, right down to the Porta-Potties)–AND budgets modeled and a business plan developed. Given the facts behind the decision, I believe it would be more widely accepted.

    SECOND–what do do in the absence of the live show? Again, EAA has perhaps the best Publications and PR department in the industry. Years ago, founder Paul Poberezny realized that this had to be a “bottom-up” organization–not run from the top. His solution was to create “chapters.” EAA has the ABILITY (some might say responsibility) to “push down” the big airshow with chapter activities–led and fed by material from EAA HQ. Activities, videos, forums, tutorials, airshow, featured vendors–all could be supplied by EAA and used either at Chapter meetings or online. All that is missing is the person-to-person contact with friends in the industry.

    Would this cost money? Yes–and no. EAA has a vast storehouse of material to work with–GET IT OUT THERE! They have a fantastic magazine (better than the long-established aviation magazines) and the talent to use it.

    With the several months to prepare for a “video Oshkosh”–they could accomplish this. Is it as good as being there in person? No–but we can’t all be there in person anyway–and with attendance up every year, they are reaching the limit on how many they can accommodate at the show. The effects of the virus may have an effect on large public gatherings for several years–but with the alternate accommodations at the ready, they would be ready for almost any eventuality.

  19. Hi Paul:

    It is impossible to know what is the right call. It is almost unbearable that you have to make the last paragraph a reminder to be civil and productive. In the last years, we seem to have forgotten that we are all Americans and all love aviation. President Trump is a cause, but it started before he was elected, and it seems like everyone can’t be calm and courteous. Shame on us.

    Good article, as usual.


    Vince Massimini
    Kentmorr Airpark, MD (3W3)

  20. I applaud Jack for making a difficult decision, and choosing to support public health. I have one family member who would almost certainly die of COVID-19 (age + compromised immune system), and appreciate efforts to keep her and others healthy.

    A lot of folks seem to forget that slowing the spread of the virus isn’t just about death rates, but also about reducing the numbers of those needing hospitalization. I certainly want to be able to receive emergency care if needed. Folks with a blase attitude towards the virus would probably change their tune if they were turned away from an emergency room in dire need.