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EAA AirVenture 2015: Local communities prepare for spike in tourism, revenue

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It’s almost AirVenture week in Oshkosh, which means different things for everyone. For local businesses, it is a week of booming revenue. For Oshkosh residents, it is a week of new faces and, let’s be honest, inconveniently congested roadways. But for airplane lovers, it is by far the most anticipated week of the year.

Aviation enthusiasts are anxiously awaiting this year’s Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture, which kicks off on July 20 with an anticipated attendance of more than 500,000 people from all over the globe. “I like to call this event aviation’s family reunion,” says Dick Knapinski, EAA director of communications, “because it doesn’t matter what you fly, what you like to see fly and where you are from — you are welcome here.”

Though the air shows and latest aviation innovations are usually what seem to draw people in the most, there are many exciting new things to look forward to this year.

New technological advances have made it possible for drones to make their first appearance at this year’s event, which promises to draw a large and curious crowd to the drone-flying area. Other firsts this year include a new Vintage Plaza, which will showcase classic and vintage aircraft, as well as first-time ground displays of B-52 and F-35 military aircraft.

More than 2,500 show planes and 10,000 aircraft are expected to fly into the EAA grounds next week; but it’s not just air traffic that will increase in the area. AirVenture brings in millions of dollars to the area every year, boosting various areas of local economy.

“Tourism dollars are recirculated into our community as visitors eat at restaurants, shop at our stores, gas up at our gas stations and enjoy our many entertainment options,” says Wendy Hielsberg, Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce executive director.

EAA’s wave is felt from Fond du Lac to Appleton and in surrounding communities as well, with hotels booked to almost full capacity and restaurant staff members working extra hours to keep up with the constant flow of customers.

Mary Rhode, marketing communications manager at the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, says that EAA helps boost the economy in the Fox Cities, mostly via lodging, dining and shopping, despite the fact that the grounds are roughly 20 miles away.

According to a 2008 independent University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh study, the annual impact of AirVenture on Wisconsin economy is $110 million, with more than half of those dollars staying within a 30-mile radius of Oshkosh.

“In addition, more than 70 percent of our visitors come from outside Wisconsin, which means it’s not just state residents exchanging money with one another; this is new money that comes into the state,” says Knapinski.

He adds that AirVenture’s impact on the city of Oshkosh and the surrounding Fox Cities area doesn’t just stop at economic value; it is also good exposure for the area. “If you go to nearly any airport in the world and say the word Oshkosh to a pilot, that person will likely know exactly what you’re talking about,” he says. “That’s visibility that a community or region cannot purchase.”

Chances are, if you are traveling elsewhere in the country and mention that you are from the Oshkosh area, someone will either recognize the name because of the EAA or say that they have been to AirVenture before. “That is great recognition, not only for local pride, but for economic development people here who want that ‘foot in the door’ to talk about this region,” Knapinski says.

Although the money made will surely be spent and the statistics may vary from year to year, the true purpose of “Oshkosh,” as AirVenture is commonly referred to by many outside visitors, has been and will forever remain the same. It is what a Russian EAA visitor once described to Knapinski as an “aviation holiday for the soul” —  it unites and excites people of all ages, nationalities and interests.

“There is that common joy and excitement about flight that unites us,” Knapinski says. “People go back home from here excited about flying, about the possibilities and about what they’ve seen. There are activities, information and events that happen here that do not happen anyplace else. And that’s what makes Oshkosh almost magical to those who enjoy flight.”

EAA AirVenture 2015 will run July 20-26. For full event details, visit eaa.org/en/airventure.

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