Alan Farkas’ Day-by-Day Account of the Conference!
As a member of the Government Host Committee, the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh (aka “Oshkosh”) begins with a team briefing at 3:00pm on Sunday. We are joined by several committee heads and interested government officials (e.g., representatives from the FAA Small Aircraft Directorate, FAA Security, and the Directors for Warbirds, Vintage, and International Aerobatic Club). The Government Host Committee is staffed by volunteers from all walks of the industry: a former FAA Administrator, airline captains, OEM engineers, state aviation directors, airshow performers, and other industry leaders.
We are responsible for making sure visiting government officials (legislators, governors, executive officers and regulators) get the full breadth of Oshkosh so they have a reliable base of knowledge to utilize as they go about their business. We escort these officials throughout the vast Oshkosh grounds, in and out of the exhibits, across the flight line, up close to all varieties of aircraft, and we facilitate discussions with the builders, operators, restorers, and other involved folks. Time and time again, I get to experience the joy through someone else’s eyes as they experience a beautiful powerful Warbird, a fantastic new homebuilt design, a breathtaking airshow performance, or the sheer beauty of the seaplane base. Along the way, they begin to see me as simply, “Alan,” and I’ve been fortunate to develop real friendships with people that have some pretty heavy responsibilities accompanied by quite impressive job titles.
The Government Host Committee is also responsible for staffing the advocacy tent in the EAA Welcome Center to inform and answer questions on pending policy issues to the members. In any event, we go through the highlights of the week, including who we’re expecting and any changes in procedures. I drive through the Warbirds area and take note of 5 beautifully restored Corsairs parked side by side, shadowing two P38s a Mosquito, and a Mustang. I drive across the grounds and the airport perimeter road on my way to the hotel which has only one redeeming quality – its adjacent to the airport. Along the way, I notice that the North 40 is packed, and this is particularly striking for a Sunday. I see all sorts of Bonanzas, Vtails and straight tails, lots of “C” registered aircraft that I assume to be a function of the favorable Canadian exchange rate, and lots and lots of Mooneys likely celebrating the re-birth of their brand.
We begin the day with a briefing; the arrivals are already up over 1,000 aircrafts. As the meeting wraps up, I receive an email from Senator Inhofe’s legislative aid about some proposed revisions to the Pilot’s Bill of Rights Amendments (PBOR II). I make my comments and wander the grounds a bit on the way to the Welcome Center. In the Innovation Center, the drone cage is set-up to provide a safe way to fly small quad copters on the grounds. There is also a myriad of aviation products in various stages of development. At the ICON tent, Kirk Hawkins is presenting the first A5 customer delivery to Sean Tucker. Next, I go to staff the advocacy booth where I’m joined by Mike Rice, former Director of Aeronautics for New Mexico and current President of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and Bob Kunkel, former Director of the Wisconsin Division of Aeronautics. We are mainly engaged in conversations with members on the nuances of 3rd class medical reform (one of the prominent aspects of PBOR II) and encouraging them to contact their senators to urge support for the pending bill.
My next stop is a meeting with NTSB Chairman Hart and his special assistant, Vishal Amin. We headed to the Oshkosh Tower, which was non-operational as all control had been tendered to the air boss for the airshow. There were a few “pink shirts” (ATC controllers) in the tower who provided a mini tour and explanation of the intricate arrival and departure procedures, including the waivers that allow three aircraft to land simultaneously on a single runway. From the tower we get a great perspective of the huge area covered by the aircraft parked along the flight line and camping areas, including a B52 parked on the main ramp. It’s a great vantage point for the airshow, too. Highlights from the show included the A350 doing some fairly aggressive climbs and turns and Luca Bertossio, a 25 year old Italian performer who does loops and climbs that would be astounding enough in a traditional aerobatic aircraft, but doing so in his glider is simply astonishing. Chris and Vishal leave for dinner and I stop to see my clients and friends at the ONE Aviation tent, home to the Eclipse and Kestrel aircraft. Alan Klapmeier is not simply another corporate head, and the aviation community has taken notice. Meanwhile, Jack Pelton is introducing Dierks Bentley.
At the briefing we learn that the gate is up 30% and nearly all aircraft parking is already full. Governor Walker’s visit to the grounds yesterday went smoothly. On par with these other highlights, Jack Pelton rose to Dierks Bentley’s challenge and shot gunned a beer with him on stage. We learn that FAA just announced that the Living History Flight Exemption (LHFE) moratorium was just lifted. For those of us that had been working on this issue, that is a huge victory. In short, it means that the public will once again have access to rare restored warbirds and their operators will be able to charge for the passenger flights to help defray the monumental costs of restoring and maintaining these historical artifacts. Next up, Chairman Hart addresses the membership at the Meet the Chairman forum. Former Astronaut, Charlie Precourt and EAA Vice President, Sean Elliott use the forum to announce a creative way to respond to the NTSB’s concern that loss of control accidents need further attention. Thus, the innovation prize is announced, and we learn that next year a Shark Tank like judging session will be held to pick a winner among the top entries for innovative ways to reduce loss of control accidents.
The chairman spends a great deal of time at the remainder of the forum discussing NTSB support for Part 23 revisions to ease the installation of safety equipment on standard category aircraft. Next up, we head to KidVenture. Throughout the various KidVenturew stations, kids can get hands on experience with exhibits that teach theory of flight, engines, airframe building, aerodynamics, airspace, regulation, flight controls, and much more. Then, it’s off to the Seaplane base. In 20 minutes we leave behind the worlds’ busiest airport (for the week) and the most congested location in Wisconsin for the serene beauty of two dozen seaplanes docket along a campground in Lake Winnebago. We watch several take-offs and landings, gawk at the beautiful aircraft, and take in a briefing and tour from Paul Seehafer, Chairman of the EAA Seaplane Base. Then it’s on to the Lifetime Member Dinner. The other guests at my table and I discuss the new “roadable aircraft” that one of them hopes to buy and build soon. We also spend a bit of time talking about the 3rd class medical reform bill.Gene Kranz has everyone in awe as he relays the famous Apollo 13 story from his unique perspective.
On my way out, I stop by the model aircraft flight line. Aside from the drone cage, this was another area set up this year. It’s a grass strip adjacent to the museum where model aircraft have dedicated space from 7 to 9 p.m. Next up is ICON’s party. Every milestone along the pathway to aircraft delivery has been celebrated in high style, but there, energy and excitement this year is a few degrees hotter. Aside from the customer deliveries, ICON has been providing demo flights on Lake Winnebago. The canopy is wide open and places the pilot in front of the wings with no obstructions. The A5 is regarded as nimble, responsive, quick, and overall fun. As part of the ICON legal team, my role has been minimal, but I’m proud to have been involved and I celebrate with the friends I’ve made at the company.
We attend an early briefing to prepare for the arrival of the FAA plane. In addition to Administrator Huerta and his assistants, we are told to expect Peggy Gilligan, Assistant Administrator for Aviation Safety, Randy Park, acting Deputy for Air Traffic Control, and Warren Griffin, Deputy for Accident Investigation and Prevention. Unfortunately, details begin to emerge about an unfortunate incident on the runway that shuts down the airport and causes the FAA airplane to divert to Appleton. Next, I join my partner, Dennis Schell (IP lawyer and Air Force pilot) for a visit with officials at Mooney and learn about plans for their new prototype composite airframe from chief engineer, Ron Blum, and about how Mooney’s resurrection came about from COO, Tom Bowen. We catch up with Seth Magid, of AIG.
Then, it’s off to prepare for my forum on “Legal Drone Operations” with Ron Hanson, Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs for the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). We speak to a packed group of approximately 80 members about all the latest developments, policies, regulations, and vulnerabilities in the operation of all sizes of UAS for all types of missions. Following the presentation, I met up with Mike Cole, the new head of aircraft lending for Bridgeview Bank. Of course, Mike is also a huge GA enthusiast, pilot, and CFI. We went down to where ICON was flying the A5 and watched as they put the aircraft through the full range of its envelope as one deposit holder after another walked away beaming. Then, it was back to Oshkosh for the night airshow – a spectacle that has to be seen to be appreciated. Favorites include Matt Yonken’s Beech 18 all lit up, the Sonex Jet, Bertossio’s sail plane (with LEDs along the edges) and a jet powered school bus (students have no excuses for being late for class in that district).
Following the briefing I meet up with Peggy Gilligan and Wendell Griffin (“Griff”) of the FAA for a driving tour. We drive through the Warbirds and along the flight line, taking note of all the beautiful and unique aircraft parked in neat rows along the runway (Ercoupes, all varieties of Rutan designs, RVs, Cessna 195s, etc.). As we head down the flight line (mars light flashing) we stop to watch several P-51 Mustangs take flight. Then, we head over to the ultralight area and watch all sorts of open cockpit fixed wings, powered parachutes, gyroplanes, and unique designs take-off and land on a grass strip.
Next, we go on a short walking tour towards the EAA Give Flight tent where 5 sets of wings are being built for distribution to selected chapters that will complete the aircraft. Griff pulls a rivet and signs his name to a wing. Then, it’s off to the Meet the Administrator session. Administrator Huerta throws his support behind 3rd class medical reform and explains that the regulations his office drafted are stuck up at Department of Transportation review. The theme throughout his presentation highlights finding ways to work with conscientious certificate holders to achieve compliance rather than merely demanding strict compliance or seeking penalties.
After the session, it’s off to ICON’s temporary dock where I’ve arranged a demo flight for our special guest. She is a pilot but hasn’t flown GA for over 20 years. As we arrive, we are met by David Crook, ICON’s VP of Finance and the guest is briefed on the aircraft by Jeremy Brunn, head of flight training, and then Craig Bowers, VP of Sales and Marketing takes our guest for the ride of her life. We watch as she does her first water take-off, attempts a stall (nearly impossible in the A5) and makes a series of steep turns before gently executing a flawless water landing. If business aircraft are time machines (an often repeated line) then the A5 is the fountain of youth. Next, I head to a meeting with John Duncan, director of flight standards at the FAA. John hints at big changes afoot at FAA, including significant changes in enforcement and compliance philosophy that will soon be announced.
Thursday night is the big Eagles/Young Eagles fundraiser dinner known as the Gathering of Eagles.The evening is first class, topped off with recognitions of Apollo 13 astronauts and crew – Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, Milton Windler, and Bill Reeves, along with bursts of excitement from Sean Tucker, head of the Young Eagles program, and Jack Pelton, Chairman of EAA.
I attend the morning briefing at 7:30 although my day is pretty well laid out. That said, today’s FAA plane is arriving sooner than I expected. I pick-up Jeff Klang, FAA Regional Counsel for the Great Lakes Region and we go out to meet the plane. We have a long drive around the airport perimeter road to the FBO that hosts the FAA plane. Along the way, we stop and gawk at a long line of T6s taxiing, departing, and joining up in formation. Michael Whittaker, FAA Deputy Administrator and a few other FAA officials are hosted by Sean Elliott and Doug McNair. We meet Reggie Govan and set about to make his first visit to Oshkosh memorable. We tour the Warbirds grounds briefly and then head over to the museum.
As the Chairman for the EAA Legal Advisory Council I am hosting 40 attorneys from around the U.S. (and a few foreign visitors) for a continuing legal education session. This year, our CLE topic is, “Drone Law, Regulation, and Policy for the Aviation Lawyer.” Ronnie Gipson, Legal Advisory Council member from San Francisco makes meaningful contributions on the status of state UAS laws. Our audience includes Reggie Govan, Jeff Klang, and James Tegtmeier, FAA head of enforcement for our region. These FAA attorneys join the Legal Advisory Council for our annual board meeting following the CLE. Our meeting is fairly well consumed with Reggie’s remarks and follow-up questions. Reggie explains many changes in the FAA enforcement policies and approaches that are being implemented. The change in philosophy is consistent with Administrator Huerta’s remarks, and once again, our audience is skeptical.
On the heels of the LAC meeting, our whole group moves over to the forum area for another LAC presentation, “Hot Aviation Legal Issues.” I make a point to show Reggie Govan the builder’s workshops nearby teaching welding, fabric, and wing building. Chief NTSB Administrative Law Judge, Alfonso Montano joins us for another packed house. We cover ramp checks, border issues, responding to FAA calls, and the enforcement process. Judge Montano provides the presentation on hearings of FAA violations. After we answer the audience questions, we take Reggie Govan on a brief driving tour, and then we settle in to the VIP viewing area to watch the airshow – the harrier, the F22 (vectored flight!) and Sean Tucker provide highlights. Oh yeah, it was also pretty fun to look up and see the sky littered with a record breaking number of skydivers spread out like a swarm of knats.
Todd Gagerman, a friend, airline pilot, and renewed GA enthusiast (part of my sinister plan as I took him to his first Oshkosh a few years ago) joins me for breakfast then we get up close to the F22s parked in the Weeks hangar where my car is charging. I take the stage as part of Senator Inhoffe’s forum on Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2. Jack Pelton, Doug McNair, Senator Inhofe, and Representative Sam Graves concentrate their remarks on the big policy issues at stake, the 3rd class medical reforms, and how to reach out to Congress to get this package passed. I share a few bullet points with the audience on the finer points of the legislative package and how it can be tremendously beneficial to all GA pilots. Kathy Yodice, of AOPA, has also been deeply involved in PBOR2 and she adds remarks on a few additional details of the bill. After lunch, the Legal Advisory Council’s final presentation for this year’s Oshkosh, “Buying and Selling GA Aircraft,” is held. Unlike similar presentations from prior years, the majority of the audience has identified specific aircraft that they are buying or selling and their questions are quite specific.
Overall, it was a fantastic show. I later learn that we set a new attendance record with over 550,000 people walking through the gate and over 16,000 aircraft movements. There were times when hourly movements approached 500; the busiest times at O’Hare hit the 200s in an hour. Still, I regret that I wasn’t able to meet up with several people that I expected to see, and go to certain activities. Of course, part of the magic of Oshkosh is that it’s simply not possible to fit it all in. I hope to see you all next year.