Getting a Handle on Airventure

Sept. 22, 2009
Annual aviation mega-event presents FBOs with line staffing, logistical challenges

OSHKOSH, WI — Dubbed the World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration, the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) AirVenture held here at Wittman Regional Airport in late July once again drew great numbers of aircraft, presenting unique operational challenges for the airport’s two fixed based operators — Basler Flight Service and Orion Flight Services. Relates Orion owner Jeff Wanke, “The event seemed surprisingly unaffected by the economy; it appears that the last year’s fuel prices were more of a
detriment than this year’s economic downturn.”

The 57th annual EAA fly-in convention, sometimes referred to as “aviation’s family reunion,” attracted more than 10,000 airplanes and a total attendance increase of 12 percent, to 578,000, according to EAA figures.

“We handled at least ten times as many aircraft as we normally do,” says Orion Flight Services’ Jeff Wanke. Though Orion no longer provides fueling out on the field, Wanke says it pumped ten times as much fuel as a typical day at Wittman Regional.

Due to the increase in activity, “We probably double our staff for a given day; but overall, because we are open longer and there is more activity all day long, we are probably tripling our staff,” says Wanke.

“Because we do this every year, we have a number of individuals that like to come back every year; so we just go into our records for that extra workforce needed for the event.”

As for ramp duties, Wanke says, “it’s mostly parking and moving aircraft to designated areas based on how many days the customer is going to be here.

“We do have to stack some aircraft — placing aircraft directly behind others; we have a longer term parking area and also a transient daytime parking area. When the show ends, it’s pretty much a mass exodus out of this place, so we try to line them up to get them in a position so they can all just start up and move out.

“With proper planning and coordination, we don’t have to do a lot of last minute shuffling around.”

In terms of fueling, inventory control is always a big challenge, explains Wanke. “For example, we are pumping a lot of fuel, and we have certain sized tanks; we have to time our fuel deliveries ... and it seems that no matter how good we seem to time them, we always have a glitch.

“This year we had to make a decision: Do we pay the extra freight on Sunday to get the load, or do we delay it until Monday? You can’t foresee who’s going to need what.”

Wanke relates that Orion typically handles significant corporate visitors and business aircraft, and while the number of smaller aircraft was up, he saw a dropoff in corporate flight activity this year of some 15-20 percent.

Mary Garcia, general manager of Basler Flight Service, says that during the event, Basler probably fueled some 7,000 aircraft. “Planning our fuel inventory is quite a challenge,” says Garcia.

“When planning, I look back at previous years to get some historical data; of course every year is a different ball game. I also perform anticipated fuel load reports and work directly with the suppliers.

“We set that up well ahead of time, and also make sure we have the fuel transporters set up; and the drivers assigned to a specific delivery schedule so that everything can get done efficiently. We plan ahead but we also adjust plans each day. We conduct fuel quantity counts twice per day; and if we need to tweak anything, we do it as early as possible.”

Garcia says the FBO gets most of its reservations in advance and is pretty much set on how it’s going to be handling the aircraft ahead of time. Basler also parks aircraft based on daily and long-term parking.

According to Garcia, the FBO hires on some 50 additional employees for the week of AirVenture. “We need additional aircraft refuelers; we need additional ramp personnel; we staff remote locations on the field; and we also need additional staff answering phones and taking care of customers,” says Garcia.

In terms of the number of aircraft the airport saw for this year’s event, says Garcia, “From what I could tell about the ramp activity and how busy we were, there was not a dropoff compared with last year.”