Airventure by the Numbers:
Has GA Established a Positive Rate of Climb?

8:53 PM

On Tuesday night of EAA's Annual Airplane Party, Swap Meet and Aerobatic Orgy, I hosted a "Tweetup" so I could meet a few of the "Tweeps" I have been communicating with throughout the Twittersphere. It was a casual event held in the EAA Press Office's Hospitality Tent, a venue made possible by the generosity of their Media/Public Relations Director, Dick Knapinski.

By 730P on the second day of the show, it was clear everyone at the Tweetup was shot from a full day of chasing stories and airplanes from one end of Wittman Regional Airport to the other. Knapinski and I pulled up a couple of chairs, hoisted a few cups of free soda pop, and talked about Airventure. The story I heard from this professional PR guy was almost unbelievable given the sad state of this nation's economy. Had this been the PR mouthpiece of an insurance or pharmaceuticals convention, surely his story would have been received as pure bullsh*t. But Knapinski's story was genuine:
He told me that on the first day of the show, Monday, July 27th, EAA got "slammed" with an overflow crowd. So many planes flew in, they had to scramble to open more camping areas near the North 40. So many cars were trying to park, they had to open up rarely-used lots so far away from the action, you'd need to catch Greyhound to get to Aeroshell Square. He told me online pre-sold tickets were up in the neighborhood of 20 percent, and vendors were reporting very good sales. All this, in a down economy when we flyers were supposed to stay home and piss/moan. Yeah, right, tell that to a bunch of pilots during the last week of July.
A pessimist might have written Knapinski's story off as so much PR fluff, but not me. I knew he was right, as I could see the crowds first-hand each time I attempted to get near a food concession. When 50 people are in line at every Brat stand, and 200 people are waiting to catch the bus from the dorms each morning, you just know this is one huge show. And today, EAA released numbers to prove Knapinski was right, people were in fact giving the down economy the middle finger and aiming their Chevy or Cessna at the shores of Lake Winnebago. Here is Oshkosh "by the numbers":
578,000 - people in attendance – An increase of 12 percent over 2008
10,000 - total aircraft arriving at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh and other airports in east-central Wisconsin
2,652 - total showplanes (highest total since 2005), including 1,023 homebuilt aircraft, 1,007 vintage airplanes, 355 warbirds, 116 ultralights, 99 seaplanes, 36 aerobatic aircraft and 16 rotorcraft
750 - total number of commercial exhibitors
2,182 - international visitors registered from 75 nations, with Canada (700 visitors), South Africa (220), and Australia (208) the top three nations. (NOTE: This total includes only non-U.S. visitors who register at the International Visitors Tent, so the actual international contingent is undoubtedly larger.)
41,000 - total estimated campers (fly-in and drive-in camping areas)
907 - media representatives on-site, from five continents
EAA president Tom Poberezny commented on why this show bucked the economic odds and delivered these large numbers:
“When times are tough, people make choices. Those with a passion for aviation made their choice this year … Oshkosh was the place they couldn’t miss in 2009. I've been chairman of AirVenture since the mid-1970s and I have to say we’ve never had a better lineup of airplanes, people and programs than we had this year. I’m pleased EAA invested nearly $4 million in site improvements over the past 11 months, allowing us to handle this year’s increased attendance. We’ve received extensive and positive feedback on those site improvements and enhancements. This year we highlighted emerging new aviation technology such as electric-powered aircraft. We will continue the emphasis on those innovations at Oshkosh in 2010. In addition, there are several significant aviation anniversaries next year, such as the 75th anniversary of the DC-3, and further developments in Virgin Galactic’s space tourism efforts.”
So as the Dow inches above 9,000 and the big airframe manufacturers slowly hire back employees, the growth at Airventure has to be viewed as a big step out of the quagmire we've been stuck in. Are we back to the financial high cruising altitudes we saw in 2006 and 2007? No, not even close. But I feel comfortable in saying that without question, the nose on the airplane we call GA is again pointed up and the VSI is showing a positive rate of climb.

I want to personally thank Dick Knapinski and EVERYONE at EAA Airventure that put in the tireless work to make this year's show such a roaring success. I'm sure We the People have no idea what goes into putting this extravaganza on, but this I do know: The GA community is elated to have EAA and the good people of Wisconsin to do this for us each year. Just imagine what our summers would be like without Oshkosh.

I don't think any of us wants to go there.

You Might Also Like