More than 3,000 people turned out for the thirteenth annual AOPA Fly-In and Open House despite weather that remained stubbornly IFR.
"The enthusiasm of the general aviation community never ceases to amaze me," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We were thrilled to see so many pilots and flying enthusiasts drive in when the weather refused to cooperate. It just goes to show how vibrant general aviation really is."
Some 2,700 people drove in for the day, while nearly 120 aircraft came through Saturday's instrument meteorological conditions to attend. Another 45 aircraft came in on Friday to beat the bad weather.
Once here, visitors braved the rain to look at the 33 aircraft on static display at AOPA's ramp. Aircraft ranged from two-seat trainers such as the OMF-160 Symphony and Diamond C-1 Eclipse through four-seat, single-engine aircraft such as Cessna 172s and 182s and the recently certified Luscombe Model 11E, up to the "heavy metal" of GA, such as the Beech King Air, Pilatus PC-12, and Cessna Grand Caravan. Bell Helicopter, Cirrus, EADS Socata, Lancair, LanShe (the recently combined Lake and Micco companies), Liberty, Mooney, New Piper, and Tiger were also represented.
The star of the show, AOPA's Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes giveaway aircraft, a fully restored 1940 Waco UPF-7 biplane, had to stay inside because of the weather. But the hangar doors were thrown open, and members were able to get an up-close look at "their" new plane. The Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes runs through then end of 2003, with the drawing to give away the Waco, worth an estimated $250,000, taking place early in 2004. (For more information on the sweepstakes, including complete rules and eligibility requirements, visit the Web site.)
As they always do, FAA air traffic controllers and flight service station personnel played a crucial roll at this year's Fly-In, helping pilots get in and, just as importantly, get out again at the end of the day. Controllers from many of the Washington/Baltimore-area facilities helped man the temporary tower set up just for the event. And representatives from the Leesburg Flight Service Station set up shop in one of AOPA's offices to offer pilots face-to-face preflight briefings.
The 14 hours of seminars offered at this year's Fly-In were a big draw, as always. And every seminar was filled to capacity. Topics ranged from single-pilot IFR operations, spatial disorientation and aeronautical decision making, to deciding whether it's better to rent or own an aircraft, to the always-popular hangar-flying session with Rod Machado.
AOPA President Boyer took on the issue of national security and airspace restrictions when he hosted his first-ever Fly-In seminar. To a standing-room-only crowd of over 300, Boyer talked about the air defense identification zone (ADIZ) and other restrictions around Washington, D.C., and the broader picture of security restrictions across the country.
He warned the audience that the Washington ADIZ is not going away, based on what federal officials have said.
"Our biggest thing now is to try to work with the agencies to find operational solutions," Boyer said. He outlined several of the proposals that AOPA has laid before the FAA and the TSA and said the agencies have indicated they're at least willing to consider the options.
"During a meeting with the head of the Transportation Security Administration, Adm. James Loy, and other top officials earlier this week, we were told that getting back to the way things were September 10, 2001, will be a long way away," Boyer told the audience. But he also relayed some promising developments from that meeting. "One official told us, 'There were some things done in the wake of 9/11 that need rethinking,'" said Boyer.
Boyer was joined at the seminar by high-ranking officials from the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration. Bruce Johnson and Linda Schuessler, director and deputy director, respectively, of the FAA's Air Traffic Service division; Nancy Kalinowski, deputy director of the Air Traffic Airspace Management Program at the FAA; and from TSA, Bruce Landry, assistant director for general aviation operations and Michal Morgan, acting manager of the General Aviation Policy Office, were in the audience to hear firsthand the concerns on GA pilots' minds.
But no matter the concerns over TFRs and ADIZs, pilot attendance at the Fly-In helped demonstrate that GA is still alive and kicking. Exhibitors reported a good volume of traffic in the big tent behind AOPA's headquarters building.
AOPA Certified Services partners were especially pleased. "We took dozens of applications for AOPA credit cards, and the AOPA Insurance Agency was doing a brisk business telling pilots about renter's liability insurance," said Debbie Hayden, program director for AOPA's Products and Services Division.
Many of the aviation businesses exhibiting at the Fly-In said that business has been fairly good since the September 11 terrorist attacks, although the market's grown softer since the war with Iraq began. One paint shop operator said that while there's usually a six- to 12-month wait to get an aircraft painted, right now his shop is working about two months out. Other businesses report similar situations, with customers still coming in, but at a somewhat slower rate.
That information supports AOPA's position that general aviation, at least that part which supports small, single-engine owners and pilots, is weathering the current soft economy better than the rest of the aviation industry. During a recent speech to the Aero Club of Washington, Boyer noted that wait times to have new avionics installed are running as long as three months, indicating good health among companies that help owners outfit their aircraft. At the same time, new sales of the typical four-seat, single-engine GA aircraft are holding steady, unlike most other sectors of the industry.
AOPA's next major gathering will be in Philadelphia for the annual AOPA Expo, October 30-November 1, 2003. For more details, visit AOPA Online.
With nearly 400,000 members, AOPA is the world's largest civil aviation organization, working to protect the interests of general aviation. Nearly two thirds of all U.S. pilots are members of AOPA.