2020 was the first time in over five decades the summer skies above Oshkosh were unusually quiet. That’s because EAA canceled their AirVenture Fly In due to the coronavirus.
That won’t be the case in 2021.
“We want to have the event. We think it’s very important to have the event,” says Dick Knapinski, Director of Communications for EAA.
Knapinski says they have been in contact with local health officials to see if they can go ahead with the fly-in in less than five months. “What they’re telling us is by late July the vaccine rollout should be to a point where outdoor events are possible. Now they might not be what they have looked like in the past, but they’re possible.”
Knapinski says EAA is working on the grounds so it can be a safe place to gather. That will include reducing the number of indoor gathering places, greater distances between people at outdoor events, and an increase in disinfection.
The 2021 show will likely have, for the first time, a split in the afternoon air shows so that two are taking place at the same time. “Our runways are long enough that you can do that,” says Knapinski. “So instead of having one air show center, we’ll have two. People can distance out and watch these air show acts as they come in, and we’ll make sure that the one flying on the north end is flying on the south end later in the week, and the south end will fly at the north end. The air show performers really latched on to it and said ‘that’s a great idea. How can we get involved in it?’”
There is still uncertainty as to whether international visitors can make their way to AirVenture this year. Knapinski admits that the state of travel remains restrictive to slow the spread of COVID, and this may not allow for people from across national borders to visit for a week without needing to quarantine for several weeks before and after EAA. “We’d like to see it be eased, but we’re certainty preparing to say it might be a mostly domestic event this year instead of international.”
But that won’t mean people hesitant to gather in Oshkosh due to the coronavirus will be left out. Last year’s cancellation of a physical show led EAA to have a virtual event, consisting of videos from past years, interviews with some of aviation’s biggest names, and continuing education for passionate aviators. Knapinski says digital will be part of this year’s show.
“We had more than 70,000 separate sessions logged into over the course of those five days,” says Knapinski, “and we learned a lot of things that we can take forward; using technology as part of the event that will become part of the in-person event for those people who might not be able to make it, and maybe even a little bit that when they’re on the grounds they can enjoy it even more.”
There are still unknown as to how exactly EAA AirVenture 2021 will operate, and it may not be known until just hours before planes and people begin to gather. No matter what, Knapinski says he is confident that attendance will be, weather permitting, at similar levels to what they have been the past 15 years.
“We’re looking forward to seeing the airplanes coming in once again here at Whitman Regional Airport July 26 through August 1,” says Knapinski, “and we hope that we got a lot of people to come out and join us and enjoy it, even if it’s at a safe distance from one another, but the wonder of aviation will be there, and people are excited to get back to Oshkosh and enjoy it.”