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EAA Hopes To Drum Up Interest In Aviation Careers During AirVenture Event

For The First Time, Convention Attendees 18 And Younger Get In For Free

Yak 100 performs at AirVenture 2019
One of the world’s most unique airplanes, the Yak 100 that includes a jet engine between the two cockpits performs at EAA AirVenture 2019. Photo courtesy of EAA/Chris Miller

The 2021 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh convention is returning this year after organizers canceled last year’s show because of COVID-19.

While precautions against COVID-19 will change some aspects of the event, attendees also will notice changes to admission costs. This year it’s free for people age 18 and under to get into the event, which runs Monday through Sunday.

Dick Knapinski, senior communications advisor for the EAA, which stands for Experimental Aircraft Association, is hopeful the free admission will encourage families to bring their children. He hopes seeing the exhibitors and planes will get them excited about aviation.

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“We have a whole area there for KidVenture,” he said. “Lots of hands-on stuff that you can get involved in.”

Airythmia Paramotors will fly at AirVenture 2021
The Airythmia Paramotors team flies into the blue skies and are going to fly their first performance for the Twilight Flight Fest at EAA AirVenture 2021. Photo courtesy of EAA/By Airythmia

AirVenture is the largest annual fly-in convention in the world, seeing visits from more than 10,000 airplanes. Thousands are parked at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, where the event takes place.

“It becomes the world’s busiest airport — busier than O’Hare, busier than Hartsfield, busier than Heathrow or Shanghai or anything else out there,” Knapinski said. “We will have airplanes landing every 10 to 12 seconds at peak times when everybody comes in this weekend.”

More than 1,000 forums and workshops and about 800 exhibitors will be part of the week-long event.

Knapinski said getting youth engaged with aviation is important as the industry witnesses a shortage of pilots, mechanics and engineers. That’s expected to get worse as more people take to the skies and fears about COVID-19 wane.

“We want (kids) to be enthused to learn what’s happening with new technology, see some of the history, see the magic of flight,” Knapinski said. “(People) can discover this as a pursuit, a career… or just something that’s a passion.”

According to a 2019 poll of flight operations leaders, 62 percent of respondents said they were concerned about a shortage of qualified pilots. Oliver Wyman, the firm that ran the poll, predicts a global pilot shortage by 2023, at the latest, or as early as this year.

But the goal isn’t just to get more pilots. There’s also a desire to build more diversity in the predominantly white male industry.

Nathan Hammond creates a night air show fireworks display
Nathan Hammond creates a night air show fireworks display during a night air show at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019. Photo courtesy of EAA/Chris Miller

Fareed Guyot is a professional aviator and aviation enthusiast. He’s also the president of the Willa Brown Aviation Academy, an organization based in Madison that introduces disadvantaged kids to aviation.

He said of the 155,000 commercial and professional airline pilots in the United States, 94 percent of them are white. Additionally, 5 percent are women, 3 percent are Black and fewer than 1 percent are Black women.

“There is a historic mismatch or historic imbalance there that we’re trying to positively bring forth,” he said. “And that is to say, it starts with just a spark.”

The academy is named for Willa Brown, who’s believed to be the first Black woman to get a pilot’s license in the U.S. With her husband, she started a flight academy in the Chicago area in the 1930s.

This summer, the Willa Brown Aviation Academy is hosting its first camp to reach historically underserved communities, Guyot said.

“I’m so excited about what Fareed and his group is doing, because those are exactly the communities we want to bring in with the upcoming shortage of pilots, upcoming shortage of mechanics,” Knapinski said. “Just introducing young people to what the possibilities are is tremendous.”

KidVenture at AirVenture seeks to do just that. During the convention, kids will have opportunities to fly a radio-controlled airplane, participate in flight simulators and find out about aviation’s history.

KidVenture will take place at Pioneer Airport, across from the EAA AirVenture Museum. It will be open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to noon Sunday. Shuttles will run throughout the day.

Air show legend Gene Soucy flies a knife-edge pass
Air show legend Gene Soucy flies a knife-edge pass during an afternoon air show at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. Photo courtesy of EAA

Knapinski said the week will kick off with a salute to humanitarian aviation that pays homage to how planes are used to provide relief and medical services.

Despite being the reason for the canceled airshow last year, COVID-19 will get some attention with an exhibit from UPS’s 747 that helps deliver COVID-19 vaccines around the world, and the Air Force will bring a C-17 with a negative pressure COVID-19 hospital inside it.

The Great 2021 Aircraft Raffle is an opportunity for ticket-buyers to win an E-AB PA-18R that’s been painted to reflect the convention’s 50th decade of being held in Oshkosh. The plane is valued at $150,000. The drawing will take place next Sunday.

Daily tickets for adults are $37 to attend for EAA members and guests and $51 for non-members. EAA members can buy a ticket for the week for $127.

Protocols will be in place for COVID-19 protections, and proof of vaccination is not required to attend.

“We’re 1,500 acres of events, so you can distance pretty well,” Knapinski said.