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.