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Sidestep crowds with two Oshkosh alternatives

While Wittman Regional Airport becomes the busiest airport in the world during EAA AirVenture, options to the north and south of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, offer smaller crowds, camping, and ground transportation options to get to and from the big show. Google Earth image.

Flying to Oshkosh’s Wittman Regional Airport is a dream for thousands of pilots, and for good reason. It’s a challenge, an adventure, and brings you straight to the center of the AirVenture action. But if the chaos and occasional calamity of flying to Oshkosh isn’t on your bucket list, there are options. Nearby airports in Fond du Lac and Appleton offer all the services you need to easily enjoy the show without the pressure of an Oshkosh arrival.

Appleton

On the north shore of Lake Winnebago, about 17 miles north of Oshkosh, you’ll find Appleton, the largest city in the area. In fact, Appleton is home base for many AirVenture attendees because of its easy highway access, large number of hotels, and airline service. The airport, Appleton International Airport, also has large ramps and open fields for parking.

If flying directly to Wittman is all about adventure, Appleton is all about convenience. While the Oshkosh portion of the AirVenture notam runs 20 pages, Appleton receives a merciful two pages of instructions, the gist of which is a repetition of how to fly basic VFR. As a towered airport, on arrival you’re expected to obtain the automatic terminal information service and call the tower from a visual reporting point, and then land and close your VFR flight plan. Departures are just as easy, and the only event-specific information is to call for taxi when you’re No. 1 leaving the parking area.

Instrument arrivals and departures to Oshkosh are hard to come by when the weather is VMC, but to Appleton they’re no problem. An IFR slot reservation is required when arriving, but not when departing, and getting a slot usually isn’t a problem.

The airport features two intersecting runways, and the shortest is more than 6,500 feet long. All event parking is on the southeast side of the airport. Grass parking is a flat $25 for one night or the entire week, and tiedowns are required. Appleton Flight Center, the highly rated FBO, has 18 acres of paved ramp space that’s priced the same during AirVenture week as it is the rest of the year. Late planners will be happy to hear that reservations aren’t required. 

When you arrive, the friendly staff at Appleton Flight Center will pick you up from parking and bring you to the FBO, where rental cars are available. Fuel is full-service only, and they’ll take care of it before you’re ready to depart. Best of all, most years there is a group outside cooking brats and other goodies to welcome you to Wisconsin.

Whether arriving by general aviation or airline, there’s an hourly shuttle that goes straight to the AirVenture grounds, making Appleton an incredibly convenient and easy alternate. It’s easy to see why many manufacturers base demos from here, and why some of the airshow performers stay here as well.

Fond du Lac

A mere 13 miles south of Oshkosh on the southern end of Lake Winnebago, Fond du Lac County Airport is the traditional home of warbird flights and a number of smaller type club gatherings. If you like a slower pace, but still want the AirVenture experience, Fond du Lac also allows for aircraft camping, and there are showers and restrooms to make the experience more comfortable. Plus, an hourly shuttle makes the trip back and forth to the show a breeze.

Smaller than Oshkosh or Appleton, the town of Fond du Lac has less traffic, and offers more of a respite from the show. But if Wittman Regional Airport closes to grass parking, as it did in 2019 after heavy rains, it can become quite a zoo. Thankfully there is a temporary tower established for the week of the show, and all airplanes flying below 3,300 feet and within 4 nautical miles of the airport are expected to communicate with air traffic control.

The airport features two intersecting runways, an east-west strip of 3,602 feet of pavement, and a longer north-south runway that’s 5,941 feet long. Operations seem to be most often north-south during the heavier Oshkosh period, probably because the parking on the east side of the runway makes for quick exits and more efficient operations.

As with Appleton, the notam for Fond du Lac is basic, and more or less details normal towered VFR operations. Also like Appleton, an IFR arrival slot is required, but not when departing. Most parking is in the grass, and operator Fond du Lac Skyport advertises a flat rate of $35. Hard surface and hangars are available, although both are limited. Fees ranges from $35 to $100 a day, depending on the size of the airplane. Other than parking and fuel, the only fee is for camping, which is $70 per airplane, and includes the use of the showers.

Flying directly to Oshkosh may be a dream, but if you’ve done it once and want to arrive to AirVenture with far less hassle, Appleton and Fond du Lac are both worthy alternatives that require far less planning, have reasonable fees, and offer full services.

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