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Aviation heavyweights flock to U.S. grassroots air jamboree to fill pilot shortage

Sun 1st August, 2021 12:00pm
By Tracy Rucinski
    OSHKOSH, Wis. Aug 1 (Reuters) - The wings of a Boeing 737
MAX airliner swept over green fields populated by colorful small
planes, lending a rare corporate touch to the world's largest
grassroots air show this past week.
    EAA AirVenture brought together more than half a million
aviation enthusiasts and thousands of vintage or homebuilt
aircraft and aerobatic showstoppers to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for a
celebration dubbed the Woodstock of aviation.
    For one week, the annual summer event becomes the world's
busiest airspace with well over 100 takeoffs or landings every
    With marquee events like the Paris Airshow cancelled due to
the coronavirus pandemic, Oshkosh provided a tempting showcase
this year for corporate industry leaders like Boeing  BA.N  and
United Airlines  UAL.O  - a reminder of what's at stake for an
industry still overcoming its worst crisis.*:nL1N2IN0X9
    A year ago U.S. airlines were grappling with a pilot
surplus. Now as travel demand snaps back more quickly than
expected, they are rushing to fill hiring pipelines and woo
youth to the industry, a change from the slow pace of recovery
from previous crises.
    "If you had told me last year that I'd be in this event,
that I'd have an avenue to get to United Airlines, I would have
told you, you were crazy," said John Pama, a 21-year old
graduate of Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University.
    Pama was among 30 prospective young pilots United flew into
Oshkosh on a brand-new 737 MAX brandishing the "Aviate" logo for
its pilot recruitment program.
    The airline plans to hire 350 pilots this year, 1,500 by
2022 and 3,000 by 2023.
    The Boeing 737, dwarfed by its larger 777 cousin at airports
like United's Chicago O'Hare, stood out against the sea of small
planes dotted about the Wisconsin countryside, many with pitched
tents under their wings where spectators stay for the week-long
    Elsewhere at the show, Boeing joined forces with rival
Airbus  AIR.PA  for a presentation on efforts to prevent the
spread of viruses like COVID-19 during flight.
    Yet unlike the prominence given to corporate messaging at
the more widely noticed air shows in Paris and Farnborough,
England, only a handful of people attended.
    By contrast, packed forums nearby featured experts
discussing topics for small planes such as "How healthy is your
engine," all while war birds and stunt planes zipped above.
    The jamboree, which was itself canceled last year because of
the pandemic, wraps up Sunday after what organizers expect will
be record attendance, despite a sharp decline in international
visitors due to continued COVID-19 travel restrictions.
    "The crowd this year is an overwhelmingly U.S. domestic
audience," said Dick Knapinski, spokesman of the show's
organizers the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).

 (Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; editing by Tim Hepher and Diane
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