Where else to go for making general aviation's wishes come true but Disney World? General aviation pilots found positive reinforcement in abundance at this year's AOPA Expo '93 at Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel in Orlando, Florida.
It wasn't just the weather, which cooperated by providing perfect flying weather for hundreds of miles north of Florida before and after the convention. During the event came the warm, sunny days always promised by the state's tourism department, with only a sprinkle or two one afternoon.
Nor was the good news limited to the attendance figures.
The Expo set new records in nearly every category: There were 7,159 attendees (compared to 5,662 in 1992 in Las Vegas — the old record), 268 exhibit booths (the old record was 238), and 54 aircraft on static display — all new records. Other records include 92 hours of informational seminars and 55 product demonstrations.
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation netted more than $28,000 from its annual auction of goods to raise money for general aviation safety studies and projects. The ASF's Distinguished Pilot Award winner, Joel S. Colegrove of Melrose, Massachusetts, was nearly moved to tears by the respect of his fellow pilots. Colegrove had just completed a business trip in poor weather when he heard a Cessna 172 pilot on the radio who was unable to complete an approach due to failing communications. Colegrove took off again into quarter-mile visibility and 100-foot ceilings to talk the pilot through a landing attempt. The pilot survived a forced landing following fuel exhaustion.
Headquarters airports were Orlando Executive, which received 253 Expo visitors' aircraft, and Kissimmee Municipal, which tied down 670. A temporary tower was in effect to handle the extra traffic. Attracting much of the attention at the static display were a DC-3 restored and placed in passenger service by Vintage Air Tours. Restored to resemble air service as it was specifically on May 8, 1945, the company offers flights from Kissimmee to Key West, special charter flights, and sunset tours over central Florida.
An air of anticipation might be the best description of this year's convention. There was contagious optimism, for example, that 1994 could be the year Congress finally does something — after six years of attempts — to limit aircraft product liability, boosting aircraft manufacturing in the process. All AOPA members will be asked in a few months to help with the final push toward passage of a 15-year statute of repose.
Federal Aviation Administrator David R. Hinson told the Expo audience there will be debate on product liability in both the U.S. House and Senate in early 1994, which is further than previous bills. Representative James V. Hansen (R-UT), who helped introduce the current 15-year statute of repose bill, predicted in a separate appearance at Expo that it will pass.
Hinson said no matter what has slowed general aviation aircraft production, be it market forces, product liability lawsuits, or the cost of building aircraft to meet regulations, "free market forces will bring it back, although not in the same form."
AOPA President Phil Boyer announced Project Pilot — set to begin in March — which could help find pilots for those aircraft once they are built. Again, members will be asked to help attract student pilots, recover those who quit in mid-training, and return inactive private pilots to the air. Details will be announced in the near future.
Aerospatiale General Aviation President William G. Monroe — while supporting product liability reform — warned Expo visitors at a special session it isn't just a matter of wishing upon a star for reform and then waiting for the good fairy to turn general aviation into gold again.
"Most of our problems are self-inflicted," Monroe said, "because we are pilots first and profiteers last. We refuse to accept our obligation to run a profitable business. Legislative reform is not the airplane fairy that will sprinkle magic dust on this industry." Today's aviation business owners, he said, have failed to adapt to a public that demands fast food and on-demand cash machines around the corner. Instead, they treat aviation as a private club with a stiff initiation, and offer prospective pilots only dark warnings of pilot medical examinations, written tests, and check rides.
Speaking at the same session, Piper President Charles M. Suma said Piper will continue to produce aircraft even without a product liability statute of repose. "We will continue on one lung," he said. He emphasized that it was not product liability that brought Piper to bankruptcy, but mismanagement of the company.
"The previous management made a lot of errors, to be honest with you," Suma said. "We filed for Chapter 11 [bankruptcy] because we ran out of money due to mismanagement of the company." He pledged that his current production goal of 125 aircraft a year will double if Congress passes product liability reform.
Cessna's Russell W. Meyer Jr. repeated a promise to resume production of the Cessna 172, 182 and 206 as soon as Congress passes product liability reform. He said there are recent signs that the Clinton Administration, helped into office by the American Trial Lawyers Association which is opposed to changes in product liability laws, may try to derail reform by merely calling for a study of the issue.
Dale Klapmeier, co-owner of Cirrus Design Corporation, said product liability reform is only a first step. What is needed is genuine tort reform at the federal level. At present each state court system offers its own interpretation of laws affecting aviation, he said.
Meanwhile, the exhibit hall floor featured the newest in aircraft modification, training, simulation, and flight planning software, and avionics.
As in recent years, GPS receivers continue to dominate the new product news. New entrants include Ashtech with its panel-mount unit featuring a large color moving map and Lowrance, a name familiar to boaters. Lowrance featured its hand-held moving-map for less than $1,000, expected to be available in March. Also present were II Morrow's Apollo 920 hand-held with moving map and Garmin's new large-screen 95 hand-held moving map receiver.
Eventide Avionics, whose Argus 5000 got the moving-map phenomenon started, has added a flight-planning feature to its moving-map models. Bendix/King showed its newest model, the KLX 135 com/GPS combo, intended for the sport and VFR market. It will be available in March.
Booths offering computer-based flight simulation software were among the most popular on the floor. AzureSoft, MDM Systems, and NT Systems were among those exhibiting procedures trainers.
Cessna 210 and 206 owners wanting to upgrade their aircraft can now do so at a larger number of installation centers. Atlantic Aero is shipping its "550" modification kits to 10 new sales and installation centers around the country. The kits replace the stock 285-horsepower Continental IO-520s with 300-hp 550s.
Texas Skyways offered its Super Eagle conversion for the Cessna 182 that adds 35 percent horsepower, a 30-percent decrease in takeoff roll, and a 20-percent increase in rate of climb, according to the company. Ultracooling kits showed by American Aviation provide cooler intake air and increased detonation margins to engines in the Beech Duke, Cessna 414 and 340, and Piper Navajo.
For the aircraft owner who has everything, American Propeller Service proposed its designer prop, a choice of hand-painted designs featuring flames, modernistic paint slashes, and even a "Pink Floyd prism" design.
The static aircraft display at Kissimmee Municipal Airport — originally planned for Walt Disney World but moved due to cost and liability concerns — showed a wide assortment of new products.
Much of the crowd's attention was lavished on the world's first pressurized kit-built airplane, the Lancair IV-P, and Piper's Seneca IV. The Seneca IV has undergone the same transformation as did the Saratoga II HP earlier in the year, with an all-new interior and Malibu-style flat metal instrument panel. Claimed cruise speed is up slightly to 191 knots, although it retains the 220-hp turbocharged Continentals of the Seneca III.
The Lancair IV-P, which touched down only minutes before a planned press conference, provides an 8,500-foot cabin to Flight Level 240. Cruise speeds for the aircraft, which sells for $66,900 in kit form sans engine, prop, interior and avionics, are reported to top 313 knots by test pilot Mike DeHate. The company says the buyer can get professional help in building the aircraft and complete the project for about $250,000. Meanwhile, Lancair still intends to certify the 210 hp four-place ES to Federal Aviation Regulations Part 23 within two years of securing funding for the project. Funding could come within a few months, the company said.
Speaking of aircraft modification, AOPA's Good As New 172 — resplendent in its white paint scheme — seemed to glow from within its Anchor Industries portable display hangar. "So that's what a new airplane smells like," said one viewer as he risked twisting his back out of shape to view the finer points of modifications from a perspective beneath the instrument panel. The new carpet, seats, paint, and interior paneling does indeed give the 19-year-old Cessna a factory-fresh look and, importantly at least to that visitor, smell. The winner of the airplane in AOPA's sweepstakes will be chosen in January.
Awards presented at the closing banquet also offered signs of hope for general aviation. The Laurence P. Sharples Award went to John Vergona — a Ford Motor Company test track driver — for his successful 44- month campaign to save Mettetal-Canton Airport in the Detroit area. Facing high-powered local opposition, complex local government politics, and a disinformation campaign by opponents, Vergona successfully pursued a state buyout of the threatened, privately owned airport.
The Joseph B. Hartranft Award went to Senator Thomas A. Daschle (D-SD) for his courage in helping AOPA defeat new aircraft registration fees despite heavy political pressure. The award to Daschle was the first time the Hartranft Award has been presented to a previous recipient. Daschle, a certified pilot, shared the 1990 award with Representative Dan Glickman (D-KS) and former Senator Jake Garn of Utah. With friends like Senator Daschle in Congress, general aviation should do well in the looming product liability debate.
By next year's Expo at the Wyndham Hotel and Convention Center in Palm Springs, California, October 20 through 23, questions about product liability and the shrinking pilot population should have preliminary answers, perhaps adding to the air of celebration at AOPA Expo '94.