Cancellation of AirVenture 2020 Tough on Aviation Industry and Community

This would have been EAA’s 68th annual event.

EAA AirVenture
The cancellation will cost the local communities around Wittman Regional Airport at least $170 million.Courtesy EAA

The COVID-19 outbreak claimed another industry victim last week: EAA AirVenture 2020, scheduled for this July. The announcement of the show’s cancellation didn’t come as much of a surprise to an already weary aviation industry following a host of other show cancellations over the past month and a half. Yet Experimental Aircraft Association CEO and chairman Jack Pelton’s words spoke directly to the heart of Americans who have grown tired of being stuck at home, even if they understand the rationale for the decision. AirVenture typically sees approximately 600,000 visitors to the show each year, according to EAA.

Pelton said in a news release that he and his team couldn’t ignore the reality of the conflict between the need to begin the hard work for the 2020 show and the restrictions placed on the association this year. “By this time, we should have begun ramping up our entire site in preparation for our July convention. Volunteers from across the country and world would have descended on Oshkosh. Together they would have formed work parties, our suppliers would begin to start setting up tents and infrastructure. Our EAA staff would be printing wrist bands, campers guides, programs and an assortment of EAA collateral as full-on AirVenture execution begins.”

Pelton admitted that with Wisconsin still operating under a shelter-at-home order through May 26—and the social distancing that order demands, not to mention the phased recovery guidelines introduced a few weeks ago by President Trump—the EAA team saw no way “to meet our own requirements to insure the health and safety expectations our organization demands for our employees, members, volunteers, exhibitors and attendees, including sanitization, separation and personal protection requirements.”

Other associations have had to weather cancellations, such as NBAA’s EBACE conference in Geneva, the Regional Airline Association’s annual convention, the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo, the Aircraft Electronics Association convention and others. But there’s more to the cancellations than simply the disappointment expressed by thousands of regular visitors. There’s also the revenue losses to the organizations that count on the shows as a significant addition to their annual budget. While associations are reluctant to publicly put a dollar figure on the losses, they are expected to be substantial. Amy Albright, executive director of the Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau tagged the loss of AirVenture 2020 to the five-county region surrounding Wittman Regional Airport at $170 million. She echoed the industry, saying, “2020 is going to be a tough year economically for us.”

“There is no way to describe the disappointment I feel for everyone who sees AirVenture as aviation’s family reunion each year,” Pelton said. But he did try to offer enthusiasts a glimmer of hope. “Because of our dedicated and enthusiastic EAA members, our association is strong. Together, we can come back stronger, safer and ready for AirVenture 2021 and create a memorable world class aviation event.” Pelton added that pre-sold AirVenture 2020 admissions and camping reservations can be rolled over to the 2021 event or are eligible for refund. Those who have made such purchases will be contacted individually within the next two weeks regarding these options.