Oshkosh Observations 2018
September 1, 2018
For the third year in a row, this will be one for the record books. Last year's attendance was up about 4%, and I'm guessing this year will be up about the same. We arrived with our motor home Saturday afternoon, about 1 1/2 hours after light rain started falling. The open camping spots were at the extreme south end of Stits-near the exit/dump station. The side roads were muddy, and I barely made it in (more about that later) but within minutes, people were getting stuck. Never mind, we were at OSHKOSH!
Every year, aviation pundits and prognosticators try to measure the health of the industry by the attendance at the "big shows"-a practice that is about as reliable as watching the actions of Wall Street traders to divine the stock market. Like the market traders, aviation writers are also easily stampeded into trying to guess what large show attendance (or lack thereof) means for the industry. I don't even try-but here are some possibilities:
• It MIGHT mean that pilots are in a "buying mood"-new equipment, , new radios, new aircraft offerings.
• It MIGHT mean that there is renewed confidence in the economy-low inflation, money to spend.
• It MIGHT mean that there is a pent-up demand-for new aircraft, new radios, new equipment.
• It MIGHT mean that with pilot hiring at a torrid pace, and wages increasing, younger people are looking at aviation as a career.
• It MIGHT mean that last year was so spectacular (another record-breaker) that "we have to do that again!"
• OR, it MIGHT just mean that "the weather is good this year, let's go to Oshkosh!"
This IS a Convention and Business meeting (not just an airshow or trade show), so let's get the business side out of the way first, with some observations by EAA CEO Jack Pelton:
• EAA is trying to be more diverse-something for nearly every segment of aviation. Based on attendance increases the last three years, it's WORKING!
• This year marks the 80th anniversary of the North American T-6 (and there were many of them there!), the 70th anniversary of the Air Force Reserve (many of those aircraft there as well), 70th anniversary of the Cessna 170, 10,000 Van's amateur-built aircraft (with the side note that there are far more amateur-build aircraft being registered each year than production aircraft), and that EAA now has more than 215,000 members.
• EAA activities-more than 28,000 EAA members took the time to contact their Congressional representatives to oppose ATC privatization. Also, BasicMed is WORKING-EAA has physicians to coach doctors who may be reluctant to endorse BasicMed. It will take a total of 4 years before all pilots cycle through the opportunity to convert to BasicMed. More medical changes may be underway-as part of BasicMed, Congress mandated a 5 year evaluation of its effectiveness. In addition to Young Eagles, EAA is promoting getting adults to Chapter meetings, where they can be mentored by existing pilots.
• EAA seems to be taking a page from AOPA (the two organizations have partnered on a number of initiatives)-Pelton mentioned the example of younger people getting together to buy a Champ/Cub type basic aircraft to start a flying club.
• In an attempt to increase student starts, EAA has started a "virtual flight academy"-the first 6 modules are free-there will be a charge after that.
• Weight limit changes for LSA's are in the works. EAA asked "What was the original intent of the LSA-why not change it?" The FAA has acknowledged it-"We get it." Pelton explained that "a major rule change like the LSA typically takes about 4 years, and we're now 2 years into that time frame. We're asking FAA to look at aircraft characteristics, not hard and fast weight limits."
• Pelton mentioned that "There's a refreshing new attitude at the FAA, regarding certified airplanes, avionics, autopilots, and Parts Manufacturing Approvals."
• Pelton mentioned Sen. Inhofe's aviation bill-a major change to FAA funding would prohibit the FAA from charging Air Traffic Control fees to large aviation gatherings-and to make it stick, there would be a directive from Congress included in the bill that states "what was done was not right"-so that FAA can never attempt this again.
All in all, it was one of the most positive and uplifting press conferences I've ever attended.
Now that we've handled the BUSINESS side of the convention, as they say in show business-ON WITH THE SHOW!
NEW AIRCRAFT: There weren't a lot of new aircraft models making their debut this year-most were aircraft that have been "in development" for years, but are still not ready for certification or large-volume kit production. "The Buzz" (pardon the pun) is the unfortunately named "Black Fly" "piloted drone" (for want of a better description) shown at the Innovation Center. The single-place proof of concept electric aircraft is to use drone stabilization and control to allow a single pilot with minimal training to take off vertically and fly for a few minutes. It drew a lot of lookers-people either liked or hated the concept. "The Next Big Thing" concepts tend to come and go-it reminds me of the comment by former Beechcraft CEO Linden Blue-when someone called him a "Pioneer", he responded with "Pioneer? My definition of a Pioneer is a farmer with an Indian arrow in his ###!" Over the years, there have been a lot of concepts introduced at various aviation trade shows-a look back over the last 20 years shows them to be wildly optimistic.
ADS-B mandate. No, it isn't going to change. The units introduced last year for under $2000 have not been improved upon. The choice has come down to "Should I equip-or avoid the airspace?"
MN/DOT booth. Minnesota Dept. of Aeronautics used to spend time in the National Association of State Aviation Officials booth, but the Minnesota message of "We have perhaps the best State aviation program in the U.S." was getting lost in the background din. MN/DOT took a booth space to promote Minnesota aviation, (and some MN/DOT employees even manned it on their own time!). I was so impressed that my wife and I volunteered to volunteer for a couple of hours a day for 3 days to staff the booth. It was a blast! We answered questions about "where to go if flying to Minnesota"-directed aviation-specific questions to MN/DOT personnel, handed out maps, airport directories, and area-specific promotional material to those making inquiries. We handed out copies of Minnesota Flyer magazine as well-after all, what better way to find out what is happening in Minnesota aviation? Thanks, Tim Franklin! We had a great time at the booth-every year, people stop me and mention "I read your articles in Minnesota Flyer magazine!" This year, people would come up to the booth-I saw SO MANY people. It's also a way to promote your home area. If YOU would like to be involved next year, contact Rachel Obermoller at MN/DOT Aeronautics at 651-234-7207-but you'll have to get in line behind ME-I'M DOING IT AGAIN NEXT YEAR!
BRICKBATS AND BOUQUETS "WHAT WENT RIGHT AND WHAT WENT WRONG?"
• It's official-we've run out of room. Airplane camping was shut off early in the week. For the first time that I can recall, we've run out of room at Camp Scholler. The grounds people did a great job of anticipating the problem after last year's record attendance. They made major changes-put the increasing number of motor homes on the west side of Stits, eliminated show trailers from parking near the campgrounds, added additional car parking near the check-in station (at the expense of campers-perhaps adding to the problem), segregated the tent camping, non-generator campers, and generator areas. They added new streets to the area off Stits. It was still not enough-but EAA arranged to have hay cut off a farm field to the south of the Stits exit road for additional campers. EAA grounds personnel scoured the campground to find places for new arrivals, and continued to guide campers to places recently vacated.
• The new streets were VERY slippery after only a couple of hours of very light rain. While some people got angry, EAA Groundskeepers did a COMMENDABLE job of coping. They had large tractors at the ready to pull campers in or out. Within two hours, they had 3 loads of crushed rock in place. When it dried out in the next couple of days, it was a firm, hard base. GIVE THOSE FOLKS AN "ATTABOY!"
• For years, I've asked EAA to start a program of improving campsite access-and they've listened! (If not to me, to someone else with the same problem). We knew they were building out water and electric sites, but were pleasantly surprised to see that they had built up streets that cross Stits-good gravel, drainage ditches, containment areas (space was at such a premium that people actually tried to set up tents there!). Thanks, EAA-and Keep it Going!
• I've mentioned the busses being full before. After the show started on Monday, there were adequate busses-but with so many people coming in early due to the record attendance in the previous years, there were not nearly enough busses to handle them on Saturday or Sunday. Yes, I know that the show hadn't even started yet, but EAA DOES charge for camping on those days, and somebody has to handle those people. Once again, I don't know how they find all of those unfailingly friendly drivers! Same thing for the people at the check-in gate-people standing in the rain to direct you in, and the first thing they say is "Welcome to Oshkosh-you MADE IT!"-and they mean it!
• The Forums keep getting better and better-focused more on problem solving than hands-on building (though there are plenty of those forums, as well!) HOWEVER-
• Every year I complain about the helicopter noise. The helicopters are popular, and a good contributor of revenue to the Convention-but they are so noisy that they drown out the speakers at the Forums. C'mon, folks-there are 75,000 people attending these Forums all day long-it's one of the very REASONS for the convention. The helicopters flew 2,288 people in 2017 (only 3% of the number of people attending the Forums) and spend all of 50 seconds on their route north of the control tower. With all of the revisions to the grounds, lets find a way to keep them south of the tower. As a commercial helicopter pilot and owner myself, I know they are trying to stay in areas that would allow a safe autorotation in the event of a problem, but this can be accommodated with designated landing areas. It's far cheaper than trying to soundproof the Forum buildings!
• The "Theme" idea seems to be working-this year was "The year of the Tanker," with many examples on display. Same for the centenary of WW I aircraft.
• I applaud the effort to restrict vehicular traffic on the grounds-but it still needs to be tightened up. There were a lot of vehicles inside the gates. There also seemed to be more mobility scooters this year (good) but many of them seemed to be ridden by people whose need of those was questionable (bad). Outside the gate, there were a number of kids under 16 driving scooters.
• Stits sidewalk. With all of the increase in camping, PLUS the busses, PLUS those looking to check out or use the dump station, PLUS the bicycles, it's perhaps the street with the heaviest foot traffic on the grounds. It needs a sidewalk for safety-and the plus side is, it would help move traffic faster.
• "Red Barn Markets"-new markets have been constructed throughout the grounds-there are few places where it is no more than a few minute's walk to the market. They are well-stocked, and the prices are reasonable. THUMBS UP!
• "Kidventure" is wildly popular, but at the expense of Pioneer Airpark. EAA has a large amount of money tied up in 1930s-style Pioneer Airport, and on the one week where most members are able to see it, it is closed off, so we can't see the antique airplanes. Kidventure is now popular enough that it deserves a big blue tent of its own up in the education area-and the bonus is-it will be even MORE popular because you don't have to take a bus to get there!
• Museum: It's always one of my favorite places to go, especially on a hot day. They have QUIET, air-conditioned forums there as well-a bit of tranquility compared to the din of the main grounds. I've actually had people tell me "I've been here for ____years, and I've never even BEEN there!". I was surprised to find that only about 35,800 people visit it during the convention-about 6% of all the attendees. Compared to the show itself, which only appears Brigadoon-like once a year, this fine educational facility is a lasting monument to aviation pioneers and available all year round. It couldn't be easier to get to-perhaps what is needed is to have a promotion on the convention grounds to get people to go there, or a special draw to get them there. I have no official figures, but I believe that when the airships would operate there, it brought over more people.
• In the same vein, the Compass Hill, pond, and picnic pavilion area are places to get away from the crowds-and like the museum, many people are unaware of them. The same could be said for the Youth Aviation Academy at Pioneer Airport-more people need to be aware of the opportunities afforded by this program and beautiful facility.
• The EAA App. Several years ago, I remarked that there were so many things going on at Oshkosh that it was hard to choose which ones to take in-but that since many of those were presented multiple times, it would be nice to have a cell phone app with the schedules, to take maximum advantage of being able to see your favorites. I won't take credit for it, but I DO send this column to EAA-and someone did come up with the free app. Last year, over 38,000 people used it.
• EAA program contents. I know that for most people, it's hard to get excited about a magazine, but EAA Publications have become some of the best aviation magazines out there-good material, good writers, great photography-a real enhancement for the dues paid. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't read it upon entry-I didn't read it until a couple of days later, and I wish I had read it earlier.
These aren't complaints-they are a list of what went right and what went wrong-and a suggestion of what can be done about them. SEE YOU THERE NEXT YEAR!
Jim Hanson is the long-time airport operator at Albert Lea, MN. Far from being a “grumpy old man”, Jim has reached an age where he has achieved “curmudgeon” status. If you would like to comment on his comments, contact this magazine, or contact him directly at 507 373 0608 or firstname.lastname@example.org