AOPA Expo 2002

Desert High

December 1, 2002

A record-setting AOPA Expo

It's official: 11,701 pilots, aircraft owners, and friends of aviation came to Palm Springs, California, for AOPA Expo 2002.

Pilots began arriving on Tuesday, October 22, into Palm Springs International, Desert Resorts Regional, and Bermuda Dunes airports in the Palm Springs valley. A total of 2,160 airplanes flew in for the event — but there was plenty of ramp space for those who took advantage of the good weather Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to come into Expo. "Wow! We've got a lot of airplanes," said Sheryl Evans of Million Air Palm Springs FBO at Palm Springs International Airport — the largest of the three airports. About 80 airplanes had arrived at Million Air by early Wednesday afternoon. Signature Flight Support across the field told a similar story, with as many as 400 airplanes — and a ramp about half full — by Wednesday midday. Over at Bermuda Dunes Airport the flow wasn't as heavy but the airplanes were still coming in, with more than 50 already parked by Wednesday.

Palm Springs parade

An enthusiastic crowd welcomed the Parade of Planes to Palm Springs on Wednesday afternoon. Some 78 aircraft taxied from Palm Springs International Airport to the convention center. Hundreds of people lined the two-mile parade route, waving and cheering as the aircraft passed by. Palm Springs Mayor Will Kleindienst and AOPA President Phil Boyer welcomed Expo attendees with a ribbon cutting at the parade start. The first aircraft out of the gate was a restored red Waco biplane, similar to the AOPA Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes Waco UPF?7. Passers-by not acquainted with the side-to-side taxi of an open-cockpit biplane could be heard asking: "Is he all right?"

The aircraft filed onto the streets banding the Palm Springs Convention Center to create the static display. Over the course of the next three days, the airplanes and helicopters — from the new homebuilt RV?9A to the upcoming Cessna Mustang personal jet — would attract the oohs and aahs of a delighted crowd. Cary Weltken, AOPA 702020, flew in commercially to Expo from his Petaluma, California, home. He's shopping for a used V-tail Beechcraft Bonanza. "Our son's going to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach — he took all our flying money!" laughed Weltken. "But I've always wanted a V-tail."

Meeting the new chief

A receptive crowd welcomed new FAA Administrator Marion Blakey to the opening general session on Thursday. The audience interrupted Blakey with applause numerous times as she delivered an address that was by turns humorous, complimentary to general aviation, informative, and frank. Blakey hit upon three key items, the first of which was news of the acceptance of AOPA's proposal to use driver's licenses (or other state-issued identification) for pilot identification rather than a separately issued ID. Blakey also noted the importance of cooperation between the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and of keeping the FAA's authority intact, especially in the arena of temporary flight restrictions (TFRs). "General aviation personifies the basic American freedom to fly," said Blakey. "The freedom to fly is the freedom to explore." (See " Pilot Briefing: Blakey Pledges Better TFR Information," page 64.) And pilots had a lot to explore at Expo. More than 500 industry exhibitors displayed their wares between the exhibit hall and static display. In fact, the Palm Springs Convention Center was full to busting, with two tents erected outside the main building to house additional exhibits. Most exhibitors reported brisk sales and a lot of interest. Since AOPA members are either pilots or aircraft owners — or both — exhibitors know that they get a lot of return for their efforts. And pilots get the undivided attention of the manufacturers, enjoying ease of access not generally available at airshows.

At the opening-day luncheon, James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly magazine, Michele Cheplic of WGBA-TV, and Chris Lehman of WNIJ Radio accepted their 2002 Max Karant journalism awards, and AOPA Pilot and AOPA Flight Training contributor Rod Machado entertained the audience.

Ted Davis, AOPA 1381320, came to Expo to see some of the 80-plus seminars, especially those on the safety track. And the seminars remain one of the most valuable and popular components of AOPA Expo. Over the course of the three days, popular AOPA Pilot writer Barry Schiff talked about his years of flying airliners and GA aircraft, and writing his several books; Machado explained how aviation humor can help you in the cockpit; and AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne gave weather seminars, including "Killer Clouds," to help keep you out of trouble. By the time the seminar titled "FAR Refresher: More Important Than Ever" was over, attendees were up to speed on the latest regs.

Opportunities and challenges

AOPA Expo's Friday morning general session featured a panel of industry experts who focused on the state of general aviation in the 409 days since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Boyer launched the presentations with a recap of the specific challenges faced during the recovery. Drew Steketee, president and CEO of Be A Pilot, discussed the comeback of flight schools in the wake of the attacks and highlighted the fact that the current number of student pilots — 88,764 — has already surpassed projections made by the FAA for 2012. Alan Klapmeier, CEO and president of Cirrus Design, detailed the threats and opportunities presented by the current economic and security situations, stressing, "Never before have there been so many people who can benefit from what GA has to offer." Paula Derks, executive director of the Aircraft Electronics Association, noted that her segment of the industry already offers the technology needed to bring timely, accurate data into the cockpit, including graphical depictions of temporary flight restrictions. Russ Meyer, president and CEO of Cessna Aircraft, concluded the discussion with reflections on the attacks' effect on sales, which had recovered as of this past June, and offered that current orders for its new Citation models, the Mustang and the CJ3, are surpassing expectations. "We're looking at the end of this cycle," said Meyer.

Friday didn't close with serious talk about the future of general aviation. Instead, members enjoyed being among historic airplanes at a gala held at the Palm Springs Air Museum. A buffet dinner and orchestra helped fill the museum with a festive air.

Airport watch

The Saturday general session introduced pilots to AOPA's new Airport Watch program, an initiative similar to successful Neighborhood Watch programs. The program urges pilots to maintain vigilance at their local airports and provides a national toll-free number for reporting suspicious activity. Several hundred members in attendance listened to AOPA's top managers report on the doings of Team AOPA over the past year.

Andy Cebula, senior vice president of government and technical affairs, thanked the more than 1,400 Airport Support Network volunteers and 13 regional representatives out in the field. Tom Haines, senior vice president of publications, announced the customization of AOPA ePilot, AOPA's weekly e-mail newsletter, and the upcoming publication of AOPA's Airport Directory 2003-2004. Karen Gebhart, senior vice president of products and services, gave the news that members using the AOPA credit card from MBNA will be able to request rebates through the 5% FBO Rebate Program online early in 2003. Bruce Landsberg, executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, showed portions of ASF's latest online program, "IFR Adventure: Rules to Live By," and thanked the 10 percent of AOPA members who donate yearly to support ASF programs.

A sold-out banquet

The full house at the closing banquet stood as testimony to Expo 2002's record attendance. A sold-out crowd delighted in the humor of political comedian Mark Russell and feted several AOPA award recipients. The 2002 Hartranft Award was shared by two Illinois congressmen, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.), for their efforts to save Meigs Field in Chicago from closure. The 2002 Laurence P. Sharples Award went to Gordon Feingold for his work on behalf of the users of the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport in California, fighting a proposed curfew and supporting hangar development. Boyer received an award, a handsome sculptured eagle, from the Civil Air Patrol for the association's efforts in providing clear information in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The banquet brought to a close an incredible three days of planes, pilots, and fun in Palm Springs. AOPA looks forward to another winning Expo in Philadelphia, October 30 to November 1, 2003.


E-mail the author at julie.boatman@aopa.org.