AirVenture 2012: Attendance Down for Annual EAA Extravaganza

Despite numbers, mood at show remained upbeat.

AirVenture 2012

AirVenture 2012

Despite overall good weather, attendance at this year’s EAA AirVenture fly-in was down from last year, with EAA reporting a drop of approximately 40,000 tickets from the 2011 show, the steep decline due no doubt in part to the continuing economic downturn.

Despite attendance being off, the mood of those who did make it to Oshkosh was often upbeat, and exhibitors showed an encouraging spirit of innovation. There were new airplanes (three from Cessna alone), numerous interesting amateur-built models, a number of interesting avionics announcements, and an explosion in products that take advantage of Apple’s ubiquitous iPad. If anything, the commercial element of the airshow, as gauged by new products and initiatives, was among the strongest in years.

The signs of a slower than usual show were clear from the beginning of the week, and despite an uptick in activity mid-week, the end of the show was disappointing. Pedestrian traffic was light both early and late in the week, and many airplanes departed the showgrounds early on Friday. Lines concessions were unusually short (though perhaps that’s in part a sign of EAA’s having added several food stands), and traffic in the halls, which seemed to have fewer exhibit booths than in recent years, was mixed. Traffic on Sunday was very light. By noontime on the final day, the halls were virtually empty, and attendance on the field seemed nearly as thin.

Several exhibitors with whom we spoke, however, reported brisk sales over the week’s run, suggesting that the quality of visitor to the event was high even if numbers were down. A number of innovative new products, including several interesting ADS-B receivers, including models from Garmin and Sporty’s, might also explain the buying mood that some vendors saw. That is to say, companies with desirable new products were selling them.

The EAA board seemed concerned about an effort by some members to gain a more direct voice in the operation of EAA. At the organization’s annual meeting, held on Saturday morning at the Theater in the Woods, EAA president Rod Hightower announced that the board had created an email address, feedback@eaa.org, to allow EAA members or others with concerns to contact EAA board members directly.

The organization’s big fundraising effort was a rousing success, hitting record territory. At its annual Gathering of Eagles attendees donated more than $3 million dollars to EAA, with some of that money going to support the organization’s Young Eagles program. The headline auction item was a custom-built Ford Mustang honoring the Redtail P-51s of the Tuskegee Airmen donated by Ford that fetched $380,000 dollars at the live auction.

Indeed, many of EAA’s programs were well received. Its salute to the Greatest Generation, the World War II aviators, was a big hit, with daily airshows featuring a spectacular array of warbirds both from WWII and the modern era. There were, by design, fewer pure aerobatic acts, which Hightower explained by saying that he was seeking to create more balance among the performers, a move that was well received by some visitors.

Next year’s AirVenture runs from July 29th to August 4th, 2013.