Sebring LSA Expo booms with traffic, sales

January 23, 2012

A Legend Cub AL3C-100, built by American Legend Aircraft Co., lifts off from Sebring Regional Airport in Florida bound for the Bahamas on Jan. 22.

Nearly 150 aircraft on display, and a total of 160 vendors drew a crowd at the Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Fla., Jan. 19 through 22. Aircraft makers celebrated strong sales, with as many as half a dozen contracts signed during the event.

The custom paint job on this Renegade Falcon LSA drew the eye of visitors to the Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, many stopping to pose for pictures.

Good weather, good attendance, and strong sales gave light sport aircraft manufacturers a lift at the Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo.

The eighth annual edition of the nation’s largest show dedicated to LSA was held Jan. 19 through 22 at Sebring Regional Airport in Sebring, Fla., and set records for traffic and attendance, according to organizers still working on the final tallies. FAA officials logged 1,256 air operations Jan. 21, the busiest day of the show, including 200 in the first hour—a rate of arrivals and departures that rivaled the nation’s busiest airports, and made Sebring Regional Airport the busiest airport in Florida.

Many of those flights were demonstrations, and many bore fruit for manufacturers working to recover sales after a long economic downturn.

“This is the best ever,” said Art Tarola of AB Flight LLC in Allentown, Pa., selling Evektor models including the Harmony LSA. Four signed contracts, with a possible fifth to come as of Jan. 22, gave Tarola plenty of reason to smile. “We haven’t had this interest, and this level of sales, since 2007. People are tired of being afraid.”

Evektor was not alone. Tecnam North America CEO Phil Solomon said three contracts had been signed with prospects of more to come—buyers at Sebring taking advantage of Tecnam’s 50-state demo discount program.

AOPA President Craig Fuller and EAA President Rod Hightower each spoke to gatherings at the show, each remarking on the important role that LSA will play in growing the pilot population and supporting the general aviation community.

Nearly 150 aircraft were among the 160 vendor displays greeting visitors, with traffic also boosted by four days of unbroken sunshine—a first for the eight-year-old event, according to Expo Director Jana Filip. The Sebring Regional Airport Authority, managing the expo for the first time, received high marks from vendors and guests.

Created in 2004, the LSA industry has grown into a crowded field, with 123 approved aircraft on the market from more than 80 manufacturers—many, if not most, still working on the first sale.

Solomon said with the economy showing signs of improvement, the market will soon begin to winnow the crowded field.

“We need to get the cowboys out of the market,” Solomon said, calling Sebring “an interesting test” of who will stay and who will not.

LSA makers are courting individual buyers, flight schools, and public safety agencies, pitching a low-cost alternative to certificated aircraft that sip fuel and deliver impressive performance in a small package. The word “fun” was also prominent in every pitch.

Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association President Dan Johnson said the ability to fly LSA with a sport pilot license and no third-class medical requirement is just one aspect of LSA appeal.

“There are plenty of other strong arguments,” Johnson said, noting LSA are quiet, capable, easy to fly, and sell for a fraction of the price of a new Cessna 172 or similar entry-level Part 23 aircraft.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore | Online Associate Editor, AOPA

AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.