EAA AirVenture 2023: Change is the Only Constant

By Scott Spangler on July 30th, 2023

In decades past, back when its moniker matched its location, one of Oshkosh’s primary draws was learning about new products and programs that their creators debuted on aviation’s primary stage, where an eager audience hungrily consumed every word and image. For those of us for whom Oshkosh was work, every day started at Press HQ, where we structured our day while looking at the week’s press conference matrix. Every available block of presentation time was filled with strips of paper announcing who and what, with each day’s primary announcements ensuring good attendance by offering a meal, either breakfast or lunch.

Time has diminished those days. It started around the time when Oshkosh became AirVenture and the internet started to replace Oshkosh as the deadline date for introducing a new product or program. Now these creators have a direct digital connection with curious consumers and we working press who help pass the word on what’s new. The press conference matrix for AirVenture 2023 was somewhat busy on Monday and Tuesday, but thereafter it was mostly barren, except for the end-of-day EAA briefing and Q&A session.

Most of the press conferences talked about things already announced online. In many cases, they might be considered footnotes that added or further explained the subject product or program, with the opportunity to ask questions and not have to wait for an answer by return email. If there was a surprise that united these media gatherings, it was that each of them, airframers, powerplants, props, avionics, and accessories, all addressed their efforts to develop and support their workforces.

Companies like Garmin and Piper have dedicated facilities for employee well-being and health services for employees and their families. Daher has an internship that sent two American college students to its TBM facilities in France and two French interns to its Kodiak facilities in Sand Point, Idaho. And Daher gets bonus points because it chose interns never interested in or involved with aviation. A journalist asked one of them, Alison Margarita, who’s pursuing an industrial engineering degree in Pennsylvania if she was now considering a career in aviation. Enthusiasm doesn’t begin to define the sincerity of her affirmative answer.

When exploring the grounds, many exhibitors clearly were trying to grow their respective workforces. Most of the major airlines, from Delta to Southwest, set up substantial chalets and in each of them, they were recruiting pilots, technicians, and dispatchers. Perhaps the biggest change among the exhibitors was Boeing, which erected a huge, air-conditioned chalet adjacent to the West Ramp, aka Boeing Plaza, that the company recently signed up to sponsor for some AirVentures into the future.

The Boeing chalet was also home to companies the aviation behemoth has purchased over the years, Jeppesen and ForeFlight, which has contributed to the trend consolidation of the industry. Financial realities and the retirement of baby boomers who founded aviation companies whose offspring are disinterested in taking over the family business are also contributing to the shrinking industry trend. And each year at AirVenture one sees the changes, some of them subtle, noticeable only by those who have previous experience with which to compare them.

An easy one was the move of the Federal Pavilion from a dedicated structure (which was one of the dedicated exhibit buildings before EAA built the four massive exhibit hangars) to cover a third of Exhibit Hanger D. The more subtle examples are positional juxtapositions one would not have seen a few years ago when an exhibitor had to be an aviation company to get a booth, especially one of the double-wide exhibit spaces at the end of a row. And this year a mattress company was offering its restful wares at the end of one row, and Pratt & Whitney was touting its latest PT-6 turboprop one row over.

Please do not misconstrue these observations as a curmudgeon’s rant, they are anything but. They are observations that give context to the passage of time and the inexorable changes that come with it. AirVenture this year celebrated several airplane birthdays, and more than once I heard “I can’t believe the RV-10 [or the anniversary airplane they were looking at] came out 20 years ago!”

This exclamation is usually followed with a question, “Where’d the time go?”

Socrates answered this question long ago when he observed that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Bluntly put, it means people who pose this interrogative have not been paying attention to the life that envelopes them. They have not taken the time to recollect their experiences, taken the time to collate them and compare them in context, and contemplate what these examinations say about the future. – Scott Spangler, Editor


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