While most of us knew it was coming at some point, last week's announcement that Tom Poberezny was retiring as Chairman of the EAA and the annual Airventure--effective immediately--caught most of us by surprise. The decision means that for the first time in the organization's history, a Poberezny will not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the EAA.
As much credit as Paul Poberezny should get for working with his friend Steve Wittman to bring the Fly In to Oshkosh--and slowly building the popularity of the event with not only pilots but also the general public as well--it was the vision of Tom who turned Airventure into the international event it now is. It was Tom who brought high-profile planes like the Concorde, Voyager and Spaceship One to Oshkosh--and who realized that more people would attend the event if the "flight line" fences were taken down--opening the entire grounds to everyone.
It was also Tom who encouraged many of the aircraft manufacturers to make Oshkosh their showplace event for new products and marketing. This year, we had a double-decker tent on site--raising the ante for the next few years in the manufacturers area. And Tom has been a tireless advoacate for increasing access to aviation with things like Light Sport Pilot and fighting airport user fees.
Yes, the old-time EAA members may complain about the "interlopers" taking over their Fly-In--with the homebuilders shoved to the side and the unwashed public being allowed to stand close to their airplanes with food and drinks in their hands--but the revenue generated by the event helps keep membership dues low and makes EAA a powerful force in the aviation world.
It's too bad we have discontinued the "Key to the City" program at the Mayors Breakfast during EAA week. Next year would be a good opportunity for all of the hotel owners, the restaurant owners, the residents who rent out their houses, the volunteer groups and all aviation enthusiasts to give a big "thank you" to Tom Poberezny for making Oshkosh famous for something other than ugly overalls.