Going Direct: Will Oshkosh Go On Despite Coronavirus? Not A Chance. Here’s Why.

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019
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    EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019. Photo by Isabel Goyer

I was on one of my aviation Facebook groups the other day—I don’t remember which one, exactly…I belong to more than a few—and a poster asked a question that I thought would get him slammed. But that didn’t happen.

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The question was something to the effect of, “Given the COVID-19 pandemic, are you going to attend Oshkosh AirVenture if the event is a go?” I expected a chorus of replies to the effect of “damn straight” or “I wouldn’t miss it,” perhaps with a few folks demurring because of the virus.

This did not happen. In fact, the opposite was true. Commenters saying that, yes, they were planning to go made up only about one in 15 or 20 of the replies. Most everyone else said, no, that as much as it killed them to say so, they were not going to be flying in to the world’s greatest aviation gathering, even if the gathering did take place. Again, much to my surprise, no one shouted them down. 

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an editorial calling for Sun ’n Fun to cancel its event, for fear organizers would go ahead with the fly-in despite the damage such a large gathering would do. I got a lot of blowback for the post, and the event’s organizers seemed none too happy with me, either. Shortly after that, when I asked out loud whether AirVenture would happen or not, I got shouted down even more vociferously.

Most commenters wrote some version of one of the following two things.

First, they said that things would be better by then, insisting, and, again, I’m paraphrasing, that “July 20 is a long ways away still, so it’s crazy to suggest we won’t be beyond the coronavirus pandemic by then.” 

Some went even further, saying that I was out of line for even bringing up the question. In essence, they were saying, “shut up.” I have more sympathy for the latter view, which at least makes no pretense that things will be back to normal by July 20th. 

It wasn’t the least bit surprising that my suggestion that AirVenture might be canceled inspired some emotional responses. After all, it is my favorite week of the entire year, and probably yours, so the very thought of it will obviously spark some emotions. It has in me.

But let’s face facts. Not only have pilots, at least according to anecdotal evidence, already decided to some large extent that they will not attend, but other large public events that are as big or bigger than AirVenture, like the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, originally scheduled to take place the week before OSH, have already been postponed or canceled. In the U.K, the Wimbledon tennis championships and the British Open golf tournament have both been nixed for 2020, the NBA and MLB are shut down, and they are not even talking a restart to their schedules—many, myself included, expect both seasons to be cancelled. The NFL season, which starts later, is a different case, but it’s impossible to imagine what football in August would look like given the present circumstances.

For Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association, one reason is simple, and it’s relevant to us: Let’s say that MLB and the NBA decide to restart at the end of April. Will players be able to just lace ’em up and hit the playing field? Ha! Players prepare for many weeks or even month for the coming season, and those athletes have, like most of us, been in quarantine and not hitting the courts. Reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said the other day that he hasn’t shot a basket since league play was stopped a month ago. Rusty athletes starting to play after an extended enforced break is crazy, for their safety and for the integrity of the games. How would AirVenture, an event that hosts more than 10,000 planes fly in to the region, be any different? And remember, we’re talking 10,000 rusty pilots?  

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Me, I’m totally making plans to go, because it’s what I always do, but I know I won’t be going. My cameras will be dusted off and ready to fire, my media credentials will have been secured, and I’d be on my way. In my mind, that is. 

My reason is the same as everybody else’s. By mid July there won’t be a vaccine. There almost certainly won’t be any proven treatments. People are dying in frightening numbers already, and the virus has yet to hit much of middle America, though it surely will. Moreover, the ravages of the disease are too great for anyone to take a chance of getting it, or of spreading it to someone they love, or that they don’t even know, for that matter. And both would happen. Not to mention that the average age of the AirVenture attendee is not a small number, and I speak as someone who’s number isn’t small either. Finally, the event is all about the removal of social distancing, not the enforcing of it, so forget that. The show could not go on with six feet between every showgoer. It’s an absurdity. 

No, barring a miracle, there’s no way it could happen safely, and if it did, there would be very few people attending. I won’t speak for exhibitors, but it’s likely the same for them. And rescheduling for later in the year… before it snows…well, we saw how that worked out for Sun ’n Fun. I won’t be calling for EAA to cancel the show, because I know them and I know that they will do the right thing. If they want to wait until May to make the call, it’s fine with me. They’re pros, and they do care about their attendees, their employees and being responsible, locally, regionally, nationally and globally. Remember, Oshkosh is host to many thousands of foreign visitors and exhibitors, too. 

So, yes, I’m despondent about it, but these are the facts. Like you, I wish that none of this were happening, but it is. 

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