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2021 aviation event season taking shape

Who’s working on in-person events, and who’s going virtual

Editor's note: This article was updated January 22 with news that HAI Heli-Expo has been canceled, the Deland one-day fly-in, drive-in has been canceled, and Aero Friedrichshafen has been postponed until July.

With coronavirus infections at an all-time high in the United States, state officials imposing more travel restrictions, and a vaccine on the way, aviation groups are looking at the nature of their events (indoor or outdoor), time of year, and changing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and their state and local governments to plan and create events that could be safe for pilots to attend in-person.

The U.S. Army Black Daggers special operations command parachute demonstration team opened the airshows on December 4 and 5 at the Sun ‘n Fun Holiday Flying Festival and Car Show. The conversion tailwheel Piper Tri-Pacer  in the foreground belongs to the Merritt Island Flying Club of Merritt Island, Florida. The AOPA Flying Clubs Initiative helped the group form, and today they have 17 members participating. Photo by Chris Eads.

Pilots are looking forward to attending aviation events in 2021 to see sights like this from the Sun ‘n Fun Holiday Flying Festival and Car Show: Aviation enthusiasts milling around while an airshow opens overhead. Here’s an early look at which events are going virtual and which events plan to continue in person. Photo by Chris Eads.

The in-person events that remain as scheduled might look different than in years past to protect the health and safety of attendees. What the events will look like hasn’t been disclosed, but some groups have committed to continuing their in-person offerings, at least as of December. Others have already made the call to go virtual. Note: The list is not comprehensive, so if one of your favorite events is not listed, check the event’s website to determine if it is still planned for 2021.

  • AOPA will be hosting events throughout the year in the form of two AOPA Aviator Showcases and up to three AOPA Pilot Gathering Air Tours. We’ll be announcing the dates and locations in early 2021.
  • The Northwest Aviation Conference, originally scheduled as an in-person event in Puyallup, Washington, in February, has been canceled. As AOPA Live This Week® reported on December 10, organizers are exploring options for offering a virtual event.
  • The National Business Aviation Association will host two virtual events at the beginning of 2021: the NBAA GO Flight Operations Conference from February 23 to 25 and the NBAA GO Leadership Summit on March 24 and 25. NBAA has yet to announce a new location for its Maintenance Conference, scheduled for May 11 through 13. It was originally to take place in Portland, Oregon, but the association decided to look for a new location because of ongoing protests in the city and COVID-19 health concerns.
  • Women in Aviation International, which hosts a yearly in-person conference and career fair, will be hosting a virtual event March 11 and 12.
  • The Helicopter Association International’s 2021 HAI Heli-Expo has been canceled. It was scheduled to take place March 22 through 25 in New Orleans. Organizers are planning a large event for 2022.
  • The Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo is still on schedule for April 13 through 18 in Lakeland, Florida. Sun ‘n Fun officials recently hosted a successful all-outdoor, two-day Holiday Flying Festival and Car Show that attracted an estimated 4,000 to 7,000 attendees. During a Pilot Town Hall at the December event, Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo President and CEO John “Lites” Leenhouts pledged that the popular spring break for pilots would continue in 2021.
  • The 2021 Great Alaska Aviation Gathering is currently scheduled for May 1 and 2 in Anchorage. The Alaska Airmen’s Association event marks the start of the flying season in Alaska, bringing together pilots and manufacturers from around the United States.
  • The Valdez Fly-In will be back in 2021, but later than usual. The famous short-takeoff-and-landing competition typically took place in early May, but it will be on Memorial Day Weekend in 2021. “This means better flying weather, warmer weather, longer days, and more fans able to attend because of time off,” organizers posted on the event website.
  • The sixty-fourth annual AEA International Convention and Trade Show planned for March 15 through 18 in Dallas has been rescheduled to June 22 to 25. The Aircraft Electronics Association trade show brings manufacturers, technicians, distributors, and leaders together for a look at the latest in aviation electronics.
  • The U.S. Vintage Aerobatic Championships, hosted by the Antique Airplane Association at Antique Airfield in Iowa, will run June 25 and 26. The event is already garnering a lot of interest from pilots, according to Antique Airplane Association President Brent Taylor. 
  • The Paris Air Show has canceled its June 2021 event but plans to be back in 2023. The Paris Air Show alternates years with the Farnborough International Airshow in England.
  • Aero Friedrichshafen officials have postponed the event in Germany from April to July 14 to 17. 
  • EAA AirVenture is still set for July 26 to August 1 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Experimental Aircraft Association Chairman Jack Pelton expressed his commitment to continuing AirVenture in 2021 during a December 5 Pilot Town Hall at the Sun ‘n Fun Holiday Flying Festival and Car Show.
  • The Antique Airplane Association/Airpower Museum Invitational Fly-in for Antique Airplane Association members and guests takes place every year during Labor Day. Unlike most other aviation events in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic didn’t cancel the in-person event. So, it’s probably a safe bet the fly-in will take place again on Labor Day in 2021.
  • The Stihl National Championship Air Races and Air Show is on track for September 15 through 19. The Reno Air Racing Association announced that it found a way to host the event next year, even though it is still in the middle of a fundraising campaign. The race cancellation in 2020 dealt a big blow to the association, although it ended up saving the group money because had it not been canceled in advance, smoke from wildfires would have scrubbed nearly every day of the action. The 2021 event appeared to be in jeopardy, but organizers are now optimistic they can pull it off.
  • The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is on schedule for October 2 through 10 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  • The 2021 Sport Aviation Showcase at DeLand Municipal Airport-Sidney H Taylor Field is scheduled for November.
  • The Sun ‘n Fun Holiday Flying Festival and Car Show was created in response to the coronavirus pandemic canceling the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo earlier in 2020. But the December 4 and 5 event was such a success that organizers said they plan to offer the festival again next year in time for the holidays.

As you start looking at your calendars, pencil in the events you want to attend and check the event websites as the time draws near to see if they are still taking place as scheduled and if there are any special precautions you would need to take to attend.

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Senior Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor
AOPA Senior Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Cobb began working at AOPA in 2004, is a flight instructor, and loves flying her Cessna 170B with her husband and son. Alyssa is also co-host of AOPA Live This Week.
Topics: Events, AOPA Events, EAA AirVenture

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