A record-setting 13,000 attendees, and 2,550 aircraft, flew in for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) Expo, which ended on Saturday. The three-day show was held in Palm Springs, Calif., the location that held the previous attendance record, in 2002.
"Palm Springs has once again proven to be extremely popular among Expo attendees," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Pilots flew in from as far away as the East Coast to enjoy general aviation's premier trade show and convention - and Palm Springs' fabulous weather."
Palm Springs is the only Expo venue capable of hosting a parade of planes through the city streets. The parade to the Convention Center was held on the morning of Wednesday, November 8, with enthusiastic pilots and locals lining the streets to get up close to the passing aircraft. In all, more than 100 planes - including piston-engine singles, jets, and turboprops - were featured in the parade. They taxied from the airport to the convention center where they remained on display for the duration of the show before taxiing back to the airport on Saturday afternoon.
Each morning of Expo, standing-room-only crowds flocked to hear the daily general sessions, starting with a discussion of user fees on Thursday morning. The panel, moderated by Boyer, included top industry leaders and a congressman. Attendees listened as U.S. Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.); Tom Poberezny, president of the Experimental Aircraft Association; Peter Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association; and Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association, spoke about the potential horrors of a user-fee-based air traffic control system.
AOPA will continue to make its case that the FAA should be funded with taxes, not user fees, and that Congress retain oversight control for the nation's air transportation system. "We will overcome this ill-conceived notion, just as we have done three times in the last decade," Boyer said.
The Friday morning General Session featured FAA Administrator Marion Blakey. The ballroom was packed with attendees eager to hear Blakey address top issues for all pilots - user fees, airports, and technology.
Blakey said she did not support a new funding system that would entail "broad user fees." The comment was met with applause, but she was later pressed for clarification on the word "broad" by an AOPA member during the lively question and answer period that followed her presentation.
The administrator said that everybody who uses the air traffic control system should pay their fair share, including the public through a continued general fund contribution. "We do not want to create a funding system that stifles GA," she said.
Encroachment around airports is a concern for pilots all across the country. Blakey vowed to enforce regulations to curb development around federally obligated airports. "The condos will just have to go somewhere else," she said.
Under Blakey's watch, the FAA has seen quantum leaps in technology. She thanked AOPA for its support of ADS-B technology in the GA cockpit and for its advocacy regarding WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) GPS approaches.
Perhaps the biggest change during Blakey's tenure was the flight service contract, allowing Lockheed Martin to supply the critical weather briefing services. She announced that the FAA has created a flight service oversight board to ensure quality service for pilots and that AOPA has been granted a seat.
Blakey also took time to honor the AOPA Air Safety Foundation for its continuing and dedicated work in advancing the cause of air safety, by presenting the foundation's Executive Director Bruce Landsberg with the first Thomas H. Wardleigh Award. The award is named for the late Thomas H. Wardleigh, who was the "dean of Alaska aviation," the former chairman of the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation board, and a lifelong advocate for aviation safety in Alaska. The Wardleigh Award honors an individual or organization for making a significant impact on aviation safety; creating innovative training, equipment, or other improvements to safety; and for showing leadership in aviation safety, all over a long period of time.
AOPA members had the opportunity to hear directly from their association's top leadership on Saturday morning. With the theme "The Future of AOPA," the senior managers took to the stage to report to the members about the status of current issues and plans for the future. Featured were Jeff Myers, AOPA executive vice president of communications; Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs; Karen Gebhart, AOPA executive vice president of non-dues revenue; and Bruce Landsberg, executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. Boyer kicked off the General Session by announcing a new membership record high for AOPA: 409,318.
Myers explained that AOPA members play a key role in alerting the AOPA Media Relations department to stories that may have cast general aviation in a bad light. AOPA responds to each of those stories, as it did following the recent Cory Lidle accident in New York. Myers also gave members a first look at the redesign of AOPA's Web site. The newly overhauled site will debut in 2007.
Keeping airports open is a top priority for AOPA members, and Cebula highlighted recent "wins" in California, including Oceanside, Bakersfield, and Santa Monica. He also spoke about the recent election, stating that 90 percent of the AOPA-supported federal candidates had succeeded.
Gebhart presented members with details of a new credit card rewards program from AOPA and Bank of America. Such programs are an important part of AOPA's commitment to keep dues at a low $39 annually.
The aircraft accident rate has improved by 71 percent over the past 40 years, thanks in part to the work of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. Landsberg spoke to the General Session attendees about new programs being developed by the foundation and announced an accident forgiveness program available from AIG Aviation, as an incentive to participate in the safety programs.
Legendary pilot, journalist, and author Barry Schiff was the featured speaker at the Opening Luncheon on Thursday. Schiff kept attendees on the edge of their seats as he told them stories that made it clear why, after thousands of hours of flight time, he still loves aviation.
AOPA honored journalists with the prestigious 2006 Max Karant Journalism Award at the Opening Luncheon. Named for the late Max Karant, founder and longtime editor of AOPA Pilot magazine and the association's first senior vice president, the awards recognize non-aviation journalists for their fair and insightful coverage of general aviation.
The honorees this year were: Jeff Hirsch and Jeff Barnhill (WKRC); Miles O'Brien (CNN); Jason Moore (KTUU); Jason Paur (National Public Radio); and Stu Bykofsky ( Philadelphia Daily News). Honorable mentions for the 2006 Karant Awards went to: Bob McNaney (KSTP); Dennis Kellogg and Jeremy Watson (KHAS); and Richard Greene ( Auto Remarketing News).
Also at the luncheon, AOPA Pilot Editor in Chief Tom Haines announced the winner of the AOPA Pilot 2006 General Aviation Photography Contest. Out of more than 2,000 entries, Brian Dary's "A Good Morning" photo took top honors. (View the photo online by visiting Virtual Expo, www.aopa.org/expo/2006/virtual/.) The photo featured an Alaskan sunrise with a de Havilland DH-2 Beaver on floats at the Juneau float pond next to Juneau International Airport. Dary won a cash prize of $1,750.
With more than 500 exhibits, the overflowing exhibit hall featured aircraft manufacturers, avionics, flight gear, navigation tools, flight training services, and much more.
Educational and entertaining seminars ran throughout the three-day show. More than 60 hours of seminars featured speakers on topics such as safety, aircraft ownership, medical certification, interior renovations, and instrument flying. Among the presenters was AOPA Project Pilot spokesman Erik Lindbergh. During the first AOPA Project Pilot Invitation to Fly seminar, he encouraged AOPA members to share their motivation and passion - or "juice" - for general aviation with others and showed aviation enthusiasts and prospective pilots the important role motivation plays in learning to fly. More than 200 people attended the Invitation to Fly seminars and nearly 240 people signed up to participate in Project Pilot. AOPA members can sign up to become Project Pilot mentors by visiting www.AOPAProjectPilot.org.
Outside the convention center more than 100 airplanes were on display for those looking to buy an aircraft and those who just wanted to check out the latest that general aviation has to offer. Included were everything from light sport aircraft (LSAs) to single-engine propeller aircraft to very light jets (VLJs). Headlining the display was AOPA's Win a Six in '06 Sweepstakes airplane - a 1967 Cherokee Six. Making its first public appearance following its new paint job and interior refurbishment, the Six was a highlight for AOPA members - one of which will win the highly modified plane in early 2007. Complete rules, eligibility requirements, and alternate methods of entry are available online at www.aopa.org/sweeps/officialrules.html.
The Closing Banquet on Saturday night featured the 2006 Hartranft and Sharples award presentations.
U.S. Congressman Harold "Hal" Rogers (R-Ky.) was the recipient of the prestigious J.B. "Doc" Hartranft Award for 2006. Named for AOPA's first employee and president of the association for 38 years, the prestigious award is given annually to the federal, state, or local government official who has done the greatest good on behalf of general aviation.
"Congressman Rogers has been a longtime supporter of GA," said Boyer. "We have always found him willing to listen to our concerns and our ideas. His steadfast support and commitment to GA programs have strengthened the aviation community across the country."
Felix Maguire earned the 2006 Laurence P. Sharples Perpetual Award. The award is presented annually in recognition of the greatest selfless commitment to general aviation by a private individual.
"Felix has worked relentlessly on behalf of general aviation in Alaska," said Boyer. "From improvements for VFR pilots - including the unprecedented establishment of a VFR route across the Bering Straits to Russia - to the cutting edge of instrument flight using ADS-B [automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast], Felix has used his broad aviation background to improve safety."
Renowned illusionist and mentalist Jason Randal entertained the crowd at the Closing Banquet. The longtime AOPA member is an ATP, Master CFII, and Gold Seal Instructor for airplanes (single- and multiengine) and helicopters. Randal has made more than 100 television appearances and has wowed audiences of all types and sizes around the world with his unique brand of mental magic.
Next year, Expo lands in Hartford, Conn., for the first time. Plan to attend the 2007 AOPA Expo, October 4-6, for more seminars, exhibits, and general aviation aircraft. See the spectacular New England fall foliage by air and fly in for the convention to be held at the new riverfront Connecticut Convention Center.
With approximately 410,000 members, representing nearly two thirds of all pilots in the United States, AOPA is the largest, most influential aviation association in the world. AOPA has achieved its prominent position through effective advocacy, enlightened leadership, technical competence, and hard work. Providing member services that range from representation at the federal, state, and local levels to legal services, advice, and other assistance, AOPA has built a service organization that is without peer to any other in the aviation community.
November 17, 2006