Large-Scale Layoffs at EAA Part of Growth Plan?

Changes hint at new directions.

EAA AirVenture 2011

EAA AirVenture 2011

EAA AirVenture 2011

On Thursday Rod Hightower, the president of the Experimental Aircraft Association, which annually puts on the largest U.S. airshow, called AirVenture, issued a press release announcing a large-scale reorganization in Oshkosh. In the release Hightower said that EAA was looking to "strengthen our organization in several key areas to more effectively meet the needs of our members, donors and aviators."

Hightower went on to say that EAA had made the changes “after spending the past year reviewing EAA’s operations to best align them with the organization’s goals, and listening to many EAA members and supporters regarding the most valued areas of EAA.” Hightower did not specifically discuss what those goals were, other than to say more than once that the plan included “growth.”

EAA spokesman Dick Knapinski told Flying that "in the ballpark" of 30 employees got their pink slips. All were offered severance packages and other assistance, he said. He also stressed that the changes were made to move the organization forward to better serve EAA's members and that they were not made as a cost-cutting measure.

Some who are no longer with EAA as a result of the restructuring are high-profile staffers, including award-winning EAA photographer Jim Koepnick, regarded as one of the best aerial photographers in the business, Steve Buss, who ran the remarkably successful Young Eagles program, talented video chief Rob McAllister, and Adam Smith, who was formerly in charge of AirVenture and membership. Knapinski said that a new head of marketing — EAA is currently searching for that candidate — would likely head electronic media initiatives. An interim head of marketing, Oshkosh local Heidi Strand, will oversee those efforts on a temporary basis.

According to one former EAA employee, around half of the positions will be restaffed. One of those is the director of EAA’s outreach programs, which will now be filled by Jeff Skiles of Miracle on the Hudson fame. Skiles will be the public face of the Experimental Aircraft Association, working with chapters and with its outreach programs. Knapinski stressed that the changes were to effect growth in EAA’s outreach capabilities, and called Skiles' hiring “an exciting addition.”

Just six months out from AirVenture, the organization has not yet hired anyone to direct that event, which is one of the largest aviation gatherings in the world.