OSHKOSH – After the Experimental Aircraft Association canceled AirVenture last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event is back and ready to take off.
The EAA, an annual week-long air show that attracts aviation enthusiasts from all over the world, runs from July 26 to August 1, generating millions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs in the community as than Oshkosh’s biggest event. There will be some changes this year due to COVID-19 precautions, but ticket sales are still going strong for the annual event.
“Summer isn’t the same without EAA,” said Dick Knapinski, communications director for EAA.
AirVenture brings millions of dollars to the state
A study by the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh found that in 2017, AirVenture generated $ 170 million in economic impact in five counties – Fond du Lac, Winnebago, Outagamie, Calumet and Brown. The study looked at people spending money on accommodation, groceries, restaurants, taverns and stores.
People spent $ 27 million on arts and recreation, and an additional $ 20 million on dining and drinking in taverns, the study found. The event also had an impact of more than $ 1 million on the construction industry, as hotels will often be expanded or renovated in anticipation of AirVenture, according to the study.
The study also found that AirVenture offered 2,033 full-time and part-time jobs, which brought in $ 50 million in earnings.
More than 600,000 people attend AirVenture each year, said Amy Albright, executive director of the Oshkosh Visitors and Convention Bureau.
“By not having it, the loss has been catastrophic,” Albright said.
The event had strong cash reserves from previous years to get the organization through the pandemic, Knapinski said. The organization also received a paycheck protection program loan of $ 2 million this year and another $ 2.4 million in 2020 for its 160 employees.
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Despite the pandemic, disruption to staff has been minimal, Knapinski said. Since the EAA had to make the decision to hold AirVenture in March, staff decided to cancel some life safety events, like a dinner party, he said.
The Hilton Garden Inn, 1355 W. 20th Ave., is already full for the week, said general manager Thomas Arnot. Every year that AirVenture takes place, the Hilton has been fully occupied since the hotel opened in June 2001, Arnot said.
The pandemic has been tough on business management, but Arnot said people were ready for the EAA to return.
Like many businesses across the country, Arnot said the Hilton is struggling to hire workers. The hotel will be understaffed but will go through AirVenture, he said.
People are ready to return to Oshkosh
Ticket sales look strong for this year, Knapinski said. In June, sales were at 2019 levels, he said.
Everyone is eager – exhibitors and attendees – to return to Oshkosh, Knapinski said.
“People miss being in Oshkosh,” Knapinski said. “It’s something they love to do.”
This year’s event will be more of a national event, however, due to travel restrictions for some countries including South Africa, Brazil, New Zealand and Australia, Knapinski said. The EAA does not have control of the international situation but hopes to see visitors from these countries in 2022, he said.
AirVenture is a must see event for so many people, Albright said. People often refer to the Oshkosh event, so it’s an important event economically and for name recognition, she said.
Additional security protocols at AirVenture this year
AirVenture staff work closely with the Winnebago County Health Department to keep everyone safe, Knapinski said. There is a website via EAA on COVID-19 and security during the event.
It helps the land, more than 1,500 acres, be outdoors and allows people to spread out to reduce the likelihood of coronavirus transmission, Knapinski said. People staying in the campgrounds will be able to disperse, he said.
To promote social distancing, the EAA worked with the Federal Aviation Administration to offer two afternoon air shows at the same time, Knapinski said. One show will be at the north end of the field, the other at the south for people to watch, but that is not possible with night air shows, he said.
There will be more than 750 hand sanitizing stations on the ground, and teams will make sure indoor spaces, such as the grocery store and showers, are very clean, he said.
EAA also hired Jani-King, a national concierge service that provides cleaning services for major casinos, the PGA Tour, and Lambeau Field, to ensure the grounds and buildings are clean for the large gathering, has declared Knapinski.
“It looks like a promising 2021,” Knapinski said.