4,800 volunteers, 500 rented tents, 30 food concessions and much more at AirVenture.
It’s an exercise in planning, logistics and execution that boggles the mind. To produce the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA’s) AirVenture is, among many other things, to create a city that provides services (think food and beverage, washrooms and showers, entertainment) for some 30,000 to 40,000 people who camp on the grounds for a full week. It also means managing an airport that has planes landing every 15 to 20 seconds, parking for more than 5,000 aircraft at a time, a massive trade show area, special exhibits and displays – and, don’t forget, having a total of half a million aviation friends along for the ride.
“Air-traffic control alone is an amazing piece of choreography involving EAA staff and volunteers, the Federal Aviation Administration, airport personnel and a team of 50 air-traffic controllers,” says Dick Knapinski, EAA Director of Communications. “The activity on our two runways is incredible, but over the years we have made the fly-in increasingly more efficient.”
Knapinski says that AirVenture is possible only because of the army of aviation enthusiasts (4,800 in 2012) who volunteer their time every year. Some come as early as the beginning of June to help work on the event (which runs this summer from July 29 until August 4 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin), arriving in their RVs, which are parked at the campground next to the airport. They spend their days doing whatever needs to be done, and most stay after the event to help with the “breakdown,” which usually takes another month. Others from EAA chapters throughout the American Midwest arrive on weekends in June and July to take on work. And many more are there for the actual event.
“We have some 200 volunteer chairmen, each of whom marshals groups of volunteers to conduct specific tasks, such as aircraft parking,” says Knapinski. “We couldn’t hold AirVenture if it wasn’t for our volunteers. It’s their show; they become an integral part of it, and it’s a matter of personal pride.”
Planning for the event is a constant process. For example, the visit by an Airbus A380 in 2009 was three years in the making. The EAA is always looking ahead – not only to next year but several years after that. “We spend the month of August after the event getting feedback from our 800 exhibitors and as many attendees as we can reach,” says Knapinski. “We analyze the data and then make plans for the years to come.”
Knapinski says that when aviation enthusiasts are out in the world, they try to explain their passion for flight to others. At AirVenture they don’t have to, because everyone speaks the same language. “Some people liken it to a family reunion – a reunion held along with the Olympics,” he says.