AirVenture Opens With Strong Attendance, More Aircraft

 - July 21, 2015, 8:15 AM
(Photo: Matt Thurber)

On July 20, the first day of EAA AirVenture2 015, Experimental Aircraft Association chairman Jack Pelton was excited about the strong opening for the annual aviation extravaganza. Attendance is already up over last year, more aircraft are flying in and campers are inundating Camp Scholler as the weather gods, so far, are blessing Oshkosh, Wis., with comfortable temperatures and on the opening day dramatic cumulus cloud backdrops to the performers in the daily airshow.

A most important part of AirVenture is ongoing advocacy efforts, not only on behalf of general aviation and its participants as represented by the huge variety of aircraft at the show, but also the urgent need to attract new entrants to the aviation industry. One major change in that effort is the new Aviation Gateway Park, which grew out of the former College Park. Gateway Park incorporates the aviation university and career fair representatives from previous shows and now also includes the Innovation Pavilion and educational forum tents. These are adjoined by the new Drone Cage, and the entire area is part of an effort to attract young people by highlighting the latest technology and opportunities in aviation. “We have to engage their hearts and minds to get them interested,” Pelton said.

Focus on Regulations

EAA’s major push at this year’s AirVenture involves advocacy efforts, primarily the regulations that affect EAA members and their freedom to fly. “We’re working really hard on some new activities in trying to change the regulatory environment to be able to allow all these great new  safety enhancements,” Pelton said, “to get the regulatory environment that will allow this stuff to be put in the airplane without having to go through the onerous certification requirements that are for aircraft with higher performance levels.” This includes the ongoing attempt to allow owners of certified production aircraft to install capable and modern avionics that don’t meet FAA Technical Standard Order (TSO) standards but that offer great improvements in safety and reliability.

Pelton is even more passionate about the lack of progress by the FAA in simplifying third-class medical certificate requirements, which he said “is probably the most disappointing and frustrating in terms of advocacy.” This effort took two years of internal FAA debate before it was drafted as a notice of proposed rulemaking, then was sent from the FAA to the Department of Transportation last September, where it has inexplicably languished. “It’s stuck there,” Pelton said, expressing the hope that Congress might force the DOT and FAA to act via the Pilots Bill of Rights 2 legislation, which could see some action in September.

Another problem for general aviation, Pelton explained, is renewed discussions about moving the aircraft traffic control organization from the FAA into a separate air traffic organization funded by service fees paid by aircraft owners and operators. “We are not supporters,” he said. “There are too many risks. We’re keeping our gunpowder dry until [the proposal] comes out.”

This year’s "Meet the Administrator" session, where FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and other FAA officials hold forth in an open forum with EAA members (Thursday, July 23 at 11:30 a.m., Forum 7) promises to be different than previous years, where the opportunity for audience engagement was limited to a few minutes at the end of the session. Pelton explained that more time will be available for audience members and the media to ask questions. “It’s going to be different this year,” he said. “In prior years we were trying to be somewhat protective…there was some good stuff [we were working on].” But the key issue now, the third-class medical reform that would allow more pilots to fly without the need to obtain a medical certificate, is not advancing. “[The Administrator] tried, it’s going nowhere,” Pelton said. “It’s time for you guys to ask the hard questions.”