It may be too bold to call this the best Oshkosh AirVenture ever, but can you remember a better one? I can’t.
The weather has been as close to perfect as anybody could ask for, and that is a crucial but uncontrollable element of any Oshkosh. After the flood three years ago, and roasting heat the following couple of years, this week’s temperatures in the 70s, low humidity, and absence of rain has been perfect.
I also think we are finally seeing an upturn in the overall economy. After five years of recession, economic indicators are pointing up, the stock market is setting records, interest rates are low, and inflation is tiny. That ray of economic light is also shining on aviation.
Of course, fuel prices are crushingly high, and the employment rate is worse than anyone wants to endure, but overall the economic situation is better. Confidence is the crucial ingredient of economic performance and I and so many others here have seen a growth in confidence on display at Oshkosh this year.
We won’t have final numbers on total attendance, number airplanes flying in and other data for a couple more days, but preliminary counts show everything on track with last couple of years.
The really terrific news is that every exhibitor that I have talked to or heard about is reporting expanded activity and sales. That is an absolutely clear indication that the people who come to Oshkosh are active in aviation, not just interested bystanders.
Companies that actually sell and deliver pilot supplies and other components here on the grounds are a great barometer of the health of Oshkosh, and all are reporting strong sales. The large outlets such as Aircraft Spruce and Sportys are seeing very strong sales for the week. And smaller more specialized exhibitors are also telling us they have had a great week, typically calling it the best ever.
Airplane and kit makers are taking orders here at the show at a rate not seen since the recession began in 2008, and in some cases at an all-time record pace. And there has been even greater growth in the number of interested and qualified prospects that are stopping by the many exhibits. These leads will become sales in the coming months.
Many exhibitors have devised tracking methods to identify and record the number of qualified prospects who stop by their display. Jeppesen is one of the companies that has collected consistent data tracking prospects over a number of years and reports that more interested and ready to buy people came by in the first couple of days than for the entire week in previous years.
The good weather put all of us in a good mood, and so did the new food services everywhere on the grounds. Oshkosh visitors have been asking for more variety and higher quality food for many years and, after a complete overhaul, we delivered. It was a risk to make so many changes in one year, but the hard work of the EAA team paid off. In 38 years of continuous Oshkosh attendance I have never heard fewer complaints, or more compliments, about the food.
More flushing toilets, more tram service, more camping spots with power and water and greater variety in the air show acts are also reasons to declare this the best Oshkosh. We all miss the active military aircraft presence, but you can’t beat “Jetman” making his first appearance in America.
We don’t help ourselves by sugar coating our problems. The issue of FAA charging for controller services looms large. And we still must halt the decline in the pilot population.
But we don’t help ourselves by dwelling only on the bad, either. These are the good old days and we are making the best of them. We need to celebrate our success, take joy in a great week of aviation, and know for sure that Oshkosh is aviation’s greatest celebration.
The best Oshkosh ever? Yes.
Until next year.