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Coronavirus drives AFA’s massive Air, Space and Cyber conference online

The Air Force Association announced Monday that it will hold its massive Air, Space and Cyber conference virtually this September, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

AFA’s annual conference typically draws about 12,000 airmen, civilians, contractors and other attendees to National Harbor, Maryland, and features addresses from major Air Force, Defense Department and industry figures.

For the first time this year, the virtual conference will feature a combination of live and on-demand conference sessions streamed online, beginning Sept. 14 and lasting at least three days.

The events will include live addresses from senior leaders, and will allow viewers to ask questions and engage in other “unique opportunities … with Air Force, Space Force and industry leadership,” AFA said.

There will also be a virtual exhibit hall to display developments and demonstrations from industry, online meetings and interactive presentations, AFA said.

Retired Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, the president of AFA, said the decision to move the conference online was “extremely arduous.” But with the pandemic still ongoing, he said, it would not be possible to safely host a conference in-person of the quality the association desired.

AFA considered Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, state and county directives, and feedback from potential speakers, attendees, sponsors and exhibitors.

“Our goal is to continue AFA’s long tradition of hosting the premier event for defense and aerospace professionals around the world,” Wright said in the release. “Our virtual Air, Space and Cyber conference will offer the same exceptional line-up of speakers, world-class exhibits, professional development opportunities, and networking opportunities for industry, government, media, academia and the public.”

Air Force leaders often use their addresses to the AFA conference to make major announcements, such as former Secretary Heather Wilson’s 2018 “Air Force We Need” address laying out a plan for a major expansion of the service’s operational squadrons.

Past speakers and guests at AFA’s conference have included the top leaders of the Air Force, defense secretaries such as Jim Mattis, and Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee, who last year helped unveil the name of the T-7A Red Hawk.

Staff Sgt. Spencer Stone, the airman who charged a knife-wielding terrorist on a train in France in 2015, also was celebrated at the conference that year, when the Air Force announced he would be promoted two grades for his heroism.

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