"This is by far the best convention I have ever been to," exclaimed Wes Kilgore, of Gadsden, Alabama, as he enjoyed the balmy breezes off Tampa Bay and listened to Calypso music at Friday night's "Pirate's Party." AOPA Expo 2005 landed in Tampa in November, and general aviation celebrated the good life with sunny skies, a waterfront location, and perfect 75-degree Fahrenheit weather.
Bill Young, program manager of Platinum Sponsor DTC DUAT, jokingly took credit for the spectacular weather. From the aircraft display of more than 100 aircraft basking bayside at Peter O. Knight Airport to the Tampa Convention Center's beautiful Riverside Terrace, the setting was simply perfect — and the more than 8,500 attendees agreed. "This is so much more than I expected," added Kilgore. "It's a whole lot of bang for my buck."
But Expo is more than a beautiful setting and enjoying the camaraderie of other pilots; it's time to catch up on what's happening in the ever-changing world of GA. And AOPA President Phil Boyer met the challenge head-on first thing Thursday morning, introducing Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta to a sellout crowd at the opening session. "AOPA and I have a long history together," said Mineta, the first Cabinet-level official to speak at an AOPA Expo. Mineta discussed his personal relationship with Boyer — they have worked together on aviation issues since the early 1990s and are personal friends. "It's very special to me that he's taken the time to be here," said Boyer.
Resounding applause answered Mineta's announcement that he would extend the comment period for the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) for another 90 days until February 6, 2006, and schedule an AOPA-requested public meeting. "I'm giving you an early heads-up — this is an important issue to AOPA and your input is important," he said.
Mineta also addressed user fees — "From my perspective, the solution will not be a user fee," he said; airport encroachment issues — "Move near an airport and then be concerned about the noise? I've never really understood that state of mind," he said to laughter from the audience; and working with Congress — "Next question?" he quipped. Mineta concluded by saying, "I have a very optimistic view of aviation and general aviation in particular."
Bob Tyree and Christine Smith, of Trenton, New Jersey, attended the opening ceremony. "I didn't realize Phil Boyer's connection with Mr. Mineta," Tyree said. "It's very obvious that the DOT [Department of Transportation] is working together with GA. I got the impression that he [Mineta] was very concerned with GA."
Aviation's funny man Rod Machado told his favorite tales of the lighter side of flight instruction to a rapt crowd at the opening luncheon on Thursday. AOPA Pilot Associate Publisher and Editor in Chief Tom Haines kicked off the lunch by presenting the Max Karant Awards for Excellence in Aviation Coverage (see " AOPA Action," page 16). A special citation was presented to filmmaker Brian Terwilliger for his production of One Six Right: The Romance of Flying, the story of California's Van Nuys Airport, which Haines said addresses the "most important challenge in front of us — saving airports."
Donald and Anna Miller flew their Cessna 172 — one of the 1,200 aircraft that flew in for Expo — to Tampa from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and attended the luncheon. "Rod is always so much fun and always gives a good message," said Anna.
Manufacturers from three levels of GA aircraft took the stage as Dan Johnson, representing light sport aircraft (LSA); Vern Raburn, very light jets (VLJs); and Alan Klapmeier, technically advanced aircraft (TAA), presented "The State of GA" at Friday morning's general session. Up first — Johnson of LSA Marketing admonishing the crowd that he was discussing much more than "lower and slower airplanes." Light sport aircraft, he said, may just be the new ally in the quest for aviation's growth. "The lowest rung in aviation — entry level — just got easier to reach," he said.
Raburn, chief executive officer of Eclipse Aviation, next announced his company's intent to "make general aviation relevant again. GA is a viable transportation alternative. We're not competing with the airlines; we're competing with cars," he claimed. "VLJs will bring general aviation into the twenty-first century."
Cirrus Design's Klapmeier echoed Raburn's statement that aviation is competing with the automobile. "We sell time. In a handy-dandy carrying case called an airplane," he said. "We have to all work together to grow this industry, change the way the world sees GA by pushing the industry forward: LSA to VLJ to TAA."
Robert and Lonine Lohfeld, of Edgewater, Maryland, attended "The State of GA" session. "This sets the vision for the next 50 years," Robert said. "And this [AOPA Expo] is where it all happens."
Out in the sunshine, more than 100 airplanes were polished for presentation at the aircraft display at Peter O. Knight Airport, a short bus ride — sponsored by Cessna Aircraft — from the convention center. Rhonda Kavanagh and Tony DeCino, of Greeley, Colorado's Platte Valley Flight Center, were especially interested in the light-sport-aircraft display. Fourteen LSA models were open and available for them to experience. "We're planning on adding a light sport aircraft to our flight school — that's why we're here. That, and to have fun," said Kavanagh.
Kathy Wagner and Fred Brillanti, of Miami, Florida, wandered the aircraft display plotting the purchase of their first aircraft. "It's a great place to talk to a salesperson in an open environment," said Wagner. And one of general aviation's newest recruits, Caitlin Burns, age 12, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was thrilled to climb into the aircraft. "It's nice to get in and get your hands on it," said her father, Todd.
Trying out new products was also a popular activity in the exhibit hall. Attendees comparison shopped 540 exhibit booths, an increase in the number of exhibitors this year.
Boyer brought the "people who make AOPA tick" on stage — the executive management team of the association — on Saturday morning. First, Boyer addressed the association's most immediate concern, the ADIZ and the consequences of violating airspace.
Viewing a film clip of footage never before seen of the Cessna 150 brought down at Frederick Municipal Airport outside AOPA's headquarters (see " Flight of Mistakes," page 70), audience members stared in disbelief.
Boyer quoted from Richard Bach's book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, saying, "Impossible is nothing," and introduced his staff, who is tasked with keeping GA strong and safe.
Executive Vice President Jeff Myers delighted the assembled guests — and his boss — presenting Boyer with recognition for his 15 years of service to the association. The staff of AOPA, working with the FAA, created three new intersections to an instrument approach at Frederick Municipal Airport, home to AOPA headquarters — PHILB, DEFND, GEEAY.
The success of the more than 70 hours of informative and instructional seminars and product demonstrations was illustrated by packed meeting rooms and the need to add an additional seminar on GPS presented by Jim Terpstra of Jeppesen. "So many members approached me to request another GPS seminar that we arranged to offer a special second session of GPS Approaches, Navigation Databases, and Charts," said Boyer. "This just shows that pilots are embracing technologies like GPS and glass cockpits."
Scott Hassell, of Gadsden, Alabama, said of the seminars and product demonstrations, "I'm a CFI and there's a ton of information for me to take back to my students."
AOPA Expo 2005 concluded with a grand banquet Saturday evening. AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Euel Kinsey was presented the Laurence P. Sharples Perpetual Award for his efforts in saving Coleman A. Young/Detroit City Airport in Detroit, and Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) was recognized for his dedication to general aviation with the J.B. "Doc" Hartranft Award. Following the banquet, guests danced to the big band sound of the Terry Myers Orchestra.
Join us in Palm Springs, California, for AOPA Expo 2006, from November 9 through 11.
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