OSHKOSH, Wisc, — While Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is often known as one of the busiest in the world for air traffic, for one week a year, that title heads north, about 120 miles. 

Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is the home of the Experimental Aircraft Association, or EAA, AirVenture Convention. 

The event, which was first held in the 1950s and moved to Oshkosh in 1969, routinely brings in hundreds of thousands of aviation enthusiasts and pilots. On its busiest day in 2021, air traffic controllers handled more than 2500 operations, compared to O’Hare at just a touch over 2100.

The high-intensity traffic is handled by 64 air traffic controllers from around the country, who volunteer for the assignment and selected by managers. Overseeing the operation is Kathy Asselborn, who’s been a part of the EAA AirVenture for several years.  Asselborn knows her stuff, she’s the General Manager for Chicago’s Air Traffic. 

“We have a banner hung on the front of the tower that says ‘World’s Busiest Air Traffic Control Tower’ and we’re very proud of it,” she said.

Asselborn says the 64 air traffic controllers, made up of 16 teams of 4 controllers each, watch over the operations — from the tower, to the runways, and directing incoming aircraft at a remote site in the tiny town of Fisk, about five miles from the airport. 

Some controllers are new to the operation at Oshkosh, some are veterans, all are experienced and say it’s an honor to be chosen for this assignment with an eye on keeping things safe, in such a crowded airspace.

“It’s crucial. It’s number one,” Asselborn said.  “I want this crew to have a blast and enjoy themselves but safety is number one.”

Throughout the week, crowds are wowed by air shows and wandering through acres of aircraft that’ve come to Oshkosh.  Many pilots who fly in sleep in a tent under the wing of their planes, others come by RV and make up an entire city around Wittman Airport.

From some of the most advanced aircraft in the world to homemade flying machines, the show is an interesting event known by some as the Super Bowl of Aviation, and by others as the Disneyland of Aviation.

“The ‘wow’ to me is that some of these things can even get in the air and fly. When you look at them you say ‘There’s no way that can fly,’” Asselborn said.  “If it flies, it can be here. We joke about he flying lawn chairs.  They look like little bullet things with stubby wings and it’s just ‘Wow, hard to believe it can get up in the air and stay airborne.’ … Even if you’re not an aviation type person, come up and observe it because there’s something for everybody.”