Exhibiting Aviation’s State of the Industry

By Scott Spangler on August 3rd, 2010

An EAA AirVenture Oshkosh participant every year since 1978, I started spending the week there in 1989, when I began a decade-long tenure as Flight Training magazine’s booth boy.  I spent roughly half that time in the old exhibit buildings, now the Federal Pavilion and GE Aviation Learning Center, and the remainder in one of the current exhibit hangars.

JW-Exhibit-4 To pass the time when not talking to readers, and when roaming the aisles on my breaks, I began to take note of the changes from year to year. In the early years, when aviation was growing and stuffing another exhibitor into the old sheds seemed impossible, EAA built the new exhibit hangars and redesigned the outside spaces. And they quickly filled up.

Over the past three years the signs of an eroding aviation industry have been slight, but this year they were shockingly apparent, especially when I walked into Hangar C. Vast pools of open floor spilled from each of the large doorways. The aisles between exhibitors were maybe a third wider than last year, and for the first time in my memory some aisles were formed by the backside of the other aisle’s booths.

JW-Exhibit-5 The migration of exhibitors with tenuous ties to aviation from the Flymart to the exhibit hangars has been gradual—and constant. Given the economy and the decline of the pilot population, this trend will surely continue. Some of the products displayed, demonstrated, and for sale were pretty cool, however. My favorite was this electric powered RC model that reminded me of the flying machines in Avatar.

JW-Exhibit-2 Perhaps the loneliest exhibitors at AirVenture 2010 were the flight schools and companies that sell flight training courses and supplies. Apparently, learning to fly for recreation or a career seemed to interest few at AirVenture. During the week I spent upwards of an  hour or more circulating past them to see if traffic had picked up. Nope. Two schools did attract some interest however. Kansas State at Salina, with its Citation parked beside its tent, did some traffic by giving away a $2,000 scholarship every day.  And inside, people lined up at the University of Dubuque’s booth to fly its Redbird flight simulator. The booth boys, however, spent most of their time talking to each other.

JW-Exhibit-1 While people didn’t seem interested in flying lessons, they were interested in the idea of flight because they mobbed many of the exhibit aircraft. Light-sport aircraft were the primary draws, and one and two on the list of people magnets were the Icon A5, who had people waiting for its exhibit to open every day, and the Cessna Skycatcher, which attracted the curious after hours, with only the info board to answer their questions. Other aircraft, especially prototypes like the futuristic Cobalt, were, for the most part, as lonely as the flight schools.

Without a doubt the attendance this year was down, thanks to the weather, but those who showed up were interested in all that AirVenture had to offer. After talking to a number of exhibitors whom I’ve known for years and are not apt to BS me, it was a good year for business, and they all hoped the trend would continue. –Scott Spangler

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2 Responses to “Exhibiting Aviation’s State of the Industry”

  1. mike Says:

    thanks for the post… any other info on the RC avatar thing… company name, product name…

    i tried looking thru the EAA vendors but not having any luck

    thanks

    Mike

  2. Scott Spangler Says:

    Mike,

    Sorry for the delay, but it took me awhile to fine the information you seek in the mountain AirVenture stuff I collected during AirVenture.

    It’s called the RC2018/APTS-1 and sold by EZ2FLY of El Monte, CA. 626.759.3139. http://www.digittronics.com.

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