With AirVenture 2021 just eight weeks away, there are signs that this year’s show may look more like 2019 than the reduced event many were anticipating. COVID-19 cases are in decline in the U.S., if not the world, and EAA reports that advance ticket sales are strong and might equal 2019 volume as the association enters the peak selling period between now and mid-June.
EAA spokesman Dick Knapinski told AVweb Friday that as a COVID-19 precaution, some events will be curtailed or reduced in size, but overall mitigations will be minimal. As of late May, no physical distancing requirement is being planned nor will masking be required anywhere on the grounds, although both are recommended for people who aren’t vaccinated.
“We’re saying here it is. You’re adults and we’re going to trust you to do the right thing. We don’t want to be in a situation where we become the mask police,” Knapinski said. Some vendors, he added, may ask people to mask up in close quarters situations, but EAA will let exhibitors decide that for themselves. “Some exhibitors may ask you to put on a mask. We hope it’s a courtesy type thing and that people have respect for each other,” Knapinski said.
There will be some changes on the grounds and in the show itself, however. One is Express Arrivals, something the association has considered for years. Campers planning on Camp Scholler can receive wrist bands and passes ahead of time via mail, so they can drive into the grounds without having to get out of cars and campers. Knapinski said this will reduce crowding at show choke points. “This is one of the things we have been talking about for years. It’s one of those things where necessity drives the technology,” Knapinski said.
While popular events at Theater in the Woods will carry on, there will be reduced seating to encourage distancing and forums that are expected to be crowded will be offered twice to spread out the attendance load. The airshow will have two separate boxes with two performers flying at the same time, Knapinski said. This will encourage crowds to spread out along the flight line. Some evening events—the Monday night concert, the International Visitors Dinner and Young Eagles Volunteer Award Dinner—won’t be held this year because of crowding concerns.
As of late May, exhibitor attendance appears to be down slightly from 2019 levels, but may not be affected as much as EAA originally thought. “Where we were in January is not where we are now,” Knapinksi says. There are typically about 800 exhibitors at AirVenture and thus far, more than 700 have committed to attend. “I can’t say the [reduction] will be net zero, but it will be close,” Knapinski said. Many offshore companies will not be attending, he said, because of international travel restrictions.
The exhibition hangars will definitely be less congested because exhibitors will be spread out more than in past years. The aisles in the hangars will be wider and additional ventilation is planned. Many vendors that were in the hangars will be in hard-sided tents in the Aviation Gateway Park area, Knapinski said. Attendees will notice increased sanitization efforts and EAA has contracted with Jani-King, a company that handles cleaning and disinfecting at major events to help keep the grounds spruced up.
Sun ‘n Fun was impacted by a shortage of volunteers to help run the show, but Knapinski said so far, volunteer attendance is in “pretty strong shape.” The same can’t be said for workers to man the concession stands, however. “They’re struggling to find staff,” Knapinski said. If overall attendance is down, this might not be an issue. However, advance ticket sales are approaching 2019 levels and while that can indicate strong attendance, the unknown is how many people will show up at the gate. The next two weeks are the peak selling period because advance sale discounts end on June 15th.