Yes, A Normal AirVenture


Considering its impact on aviation, we’ve done relatively little coverage of COVID-19, believe it or not. I didn’t have to scroll back in the video backlist very far to find the video interview I did with Jack Pelton in which we were both filleted for allowing as how it might take a vaccine to bring AirVenture back.

Yet, a year later, that’s exactly what has happened. I don’t like to say I told you so, but I told you so. On the other hand, a tantalizing if pointless thought exercise is to ask if AirVenture 2021 would be happening if there were no vaccine. It’s impossible to say, but I can say I wouldn’t be there. The risk-reward ratio tilted squarely away from getting anywhere near crowds, journalistic call of duty or not. And many companies wouldn’t have attended, either, as many did not attend Sun ‘n Fun because vaccine deployment was still too limited.

In my interview with EAA’s Dick Knapinksi for this story, he said the COVID-19 mitigation plan is fluid. As he said, where we were in January is not where we are now and I’d add where we are now is not where we will be in July. That’s almost two months away and if the administration’s plan to vaccinate 70 percent of adults by July 4th potentiates, two weeks later—at rate of 1.7 million a day—the percentage will be higher yet. We might not be at the point of ignoring the whole thing by then, but doing so might be in sight.

I plan to bring some N95s with me—the airlines are still requiring masks—but I don’t expect to wear them at Oshkosh. For one, I expect to be among a substantially vaccinated population and, in my view, masking is a modest mitigation that works best if everyone does it. The benefit of a handful of masked people in a crowd eludes me. At this point, the risk is tolerably low for vaccinated people, but not so much for the unvaccinated. That’s another way of saying I wouldn’t go without the vaccination. (Not to say I told you so…)

And that’s another way of saying you know what, this is gonna be a pretty much normal AirVenture. What mitigations EAA has in place are minimal and depending on how things look by July, may be further relaxed. On the plus side, EAA has wrung some efficiencies out of the registration and check-in process that will certainly remain in place. The more stuff the show can automate or extend into the weeks before opening day, the better for everyone.

Knapinski told me Jack Pelton made it clear that whatever EAA promised to do for COVID-19 mitigation, it better be ready to deliver on that. Sun ‘n Fun fell short here, changing the mask recommendation the day before opening. As it turned out, it appeared not to matter much. We saw no signs of COVID-19 infections born of the show. Still, a deal is a deal. At this point, EAA is in the laudable position of being able to dial back mitigations if conditions warrant. I won’t be surprised if that’s exactly what happens.

As for attendance, I haven’t canvassed would-be exhibitors, but my informal impression is that people are coming back with enthusiasm and determination to bring back AirVenture to where it was in 2019, if not beyond. This show is—and will always be—the centerpiece of general aviation interchange, commerce and avocation. For attendees, it’s an aeronautical Disneyland.

And here a tip of the editorial hat to those smart kids who developed not just one vaccine, but three or four. When Pelton and I talked a year ago, this was an unknown bordering on a not likely. Yet a year later, as a result of good science, discipline and determination, they not only developed the vaccines but fielded them to millions of people.

For this reason, I can say this without equivocation: Some people reading this are alive who might not otherwise be and many more will be able to fly off to Oshkosh without worrying much about getting ill or dying. If you think about it, that’s a hell of an achievement.    

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  1. One thing to remember for all of us (those venturing to AirVenture) in 2021 is that Covid-19 and its variants can still be a killer to some.

    A second thing that I think is true, is that even if we are vaccinated and do not have the virus, we may still possibly (transmit it. This is really a question for those experts that may have follow-up comments to this comment!

    A third thing is that we are still learning about the virus and the vaccines that folks like you and I have taken.

    Finally, we all want to be mindful and respecting of the opinions of other attendees, regardless of our own opinions. If some want to wear masks they are welcome to do it, and if we want to have close contact with them, we might want to wear a mask when close to them out of respect. This might be especially true for vendors who choose to wear a mask.

    Let’s hope that it will be the best Oshkosh ever, at least in terms of getting back together as the biggest annual aviation community.

    • Finally………..

      If you want to wear your mask, I say it’s America and you do what you need to do.
      Those that are fully vaccinated were mindful as they listened to the CDC chief who told the nation, “Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing.”

      So, no, I won’t wear a mask as I was mindful already. And the problem is people like you who then preach to me that I should wear one anyway. You wore the thing because they said to wear it (with conflicting data) and now you want us to wear it anyway. NOPE and NOPE.

      • ‘ And the problem is people like you who then preach to me that I should wear one anyway. You wore the thing because they said to wear it (with conflicting data) and now you want us to wear it anyway.’

        You don’t know why Don wore one or even if he did or not. He never said anywhere that he did or didn’t. Good grief.

        It’s not hard to see how lately so many delicate, small-minded dears are misunderstanding and tearing down the positive and good around them. This paranoid sensitivity to ‘masks’ and ‘preaching’ and ‘dems’ and ‘people-who don’t-think-like-me’ defines the modern day snowflake of our society. Yes, irony is a beautiful thing.

        We’re not taking our usual July-August vacation this year to the Chicago area. Hope all those who can get to OSH find what they are looking for. I’ll do my best from here to promote GA and at least buy a couple shirts from the event, lol.

        • Yes I do know why he did, it was mandated and enforced by the CDC, whether he wanted to or not. If he did, good on him, but telling people to be “mindful, …might want to wear a mask.” is exactly the opposite of what the CDC said is required. I won’t tell you NOT TO, you don’t tell me I should, to make people feel better.

          • Just for clarification, the CDC does say that if you feel more comfortable wearing a mask, you should feel free to continue wearing one.

  2. Error alert.
    Many people died from delays in diagnosis and treatment of medical problems like cancer, and from mental anguish. Lives will be shortened by the stress and deprivation of job loss. Collateral damage is huge, it may exceed deaths directly from the SARS2 virus.

    About transmission by people who are not much ill with COVID-19: their rate of shedding the SARS2 virus is far lower than people who do feel significantly ill, thus probability of transmission is low.

    Fact: the real risk is to people with serious health problems, especially lung and heart. (As the heart keeps lungs supplied with oxygen, and COVID-19 is to some degree a vascular disease not just respiratory like the perennial killer INFLUENZA. Vaccination against bacterial pneumonia is a very good idea, as that is often what kills people.)
    Care residences/nursing homes and such are by definition full of people who have serious health problems, and there is high risk of transmission because aides are in frequent contact with their customers. But some private chains took early action, as did Florida – they paid attention to news.
    Otherwise persons with degraded immune systems, including recent cancer treatment, slow-growing cancer, or organ transplants are at risk – those I know self-isolated well over a year ago.
    ‘Know your own health’ I say, persons with anorexia, intoxicant abusers, and obese persons typically have a bad diet so are not healthy. (Obesity is usually correlated with lack of exercise and uncontrolled diabetes, which add up to substantial risk.)
    Age per se is not a risk factor, it is the poor health and reduced resiliency that is common in older people that is the risk.

    How many persons in high risk categories would be going to OSH?

    • How many people going to OSH are in the high-risk categories? That’s a good question. I would suspect a low percentage, but it’s definitely not zero. Besides the non-pilot attendees, there are plenty of pilots are in the high-risk category. And as we all know, an FAA medical doesn’t guarantee one is healthy, and not having an FAA medical doesn’t automatically mean you aren’t healthy.

    • Questionable facts alert.

      “Age per se is not a risk factor, it is the poor health and reduced resiliency that is common in older people that is the risk.”

      From this report: “Studies have shown that age alone is the most significant risk factor for severe disease, and generally this is the same with other coronaviruses and influenza viruses that affect the elderly.”

      “Collateral damage is huge, it may exceed deaths directly from the SARS2 virus.”

      This is from the rich vein of hoaxers and deniers. Initial data reviews suggest lockdowns and related mitigations are partly responsible for the high excess mortality in 2020. A JAMA paper suggested as much as 25 percent. That it could exceed COVID deaths is unsupported in the data and is thus speculation.

      Jay Bhattacharya, he of the Great Barrington Declaration, said that lockdowns alone could cause suicides to exceed COVID mortality. Suicides declined in 2020, following a three-year trend. Whether lockdowns were effective or not is arguable and so politicized that cutting through the fog is difficult.

  3. I was at Airventure in 2019 and it was great. I am not going to it this year, I think with the pent up demand it is going to be a major zoo, to many people. I am not concerned about Covid, I am vaccinated, I just think it is going to be flat out crazy crowded.

  4. Vaccines? After witnessing a year of outdoor “mostly peaceful” gatherings of unvaccinated people, we have hard evidence that transmission rates during mostly outdoor events are incredibly low.

    Reality is finally kicking in.

  5. Unfortunately I will not be going this year. At this point, it has nothing to do with whether I think the risk/reward is worth it, but rather because I basically have to start planning for it several months in advance, and at the time it looked like I wouldn’t even be able to get the vaccine until July. As a result, I planned to not attend this year. Of course, now I have no problems with attending it, but it’s too late for me to attend now. Oh well, I don’t go every year anyway (it’s a big expense), and 2022 as a year will be more normal than 2021.