More than 11,000 pilots and aviation enthusiasts made AOPA Expo 2004 the second-most successful ever, just missing the record set in Palm Springs two years ago. And thanks to three days of sunny weather, some 1,200 pilots were able to fly in.
"11,185 pilots can't be wrong," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "AOPA Expo is the general aviation convention. It's the one place where pilots can see the vast array of general aviation products and planes, learn to be safer, better pilots, and hear directly from top government officials whose decisions affect GA."
Watch a video of members talking about AOPA Expo 2004 [broadband connection recommended].
Expo visitors packed the general sessions that began each of the three days. On Thursday, they heard FAA Administrator Marion Blakey vow to protect the nation's airports, calling them a natural resource. "Once they're gone, they're gone," she said. "And I, for one, think we need to do a better job protecting the framework of our national transportation system." She specifically credited AOPA's Airport Support Network as an effective early warning system for spotting problems at airports.
Appearing by satellite, she also urged pilots to begin equipping their airplanes to take advantage of WAAS (wide-area augmentation system), the enhanced GPS system, in order to take full advantage of the significant investment to create it. Blakey also reiterated her opposition to user fees for providing air traffic services to pilots.
Adm. David Stone
On Friday, Admiral David Stone, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, spoke directly to AOPA members for the first time. He heard strong concerns about restrictions on general aviation flying directly from AOPA members during a question-and-answer period. At times highly passionate, the session ended with a standing ovation when Stone pledged to come back to next year's Expo. In opening remarks, Stone said the TSA depends heavily on partnerships within the aviation community, including AOPA's Airport Watch program, to achieve its goals. He said TSA does not want the government to put up temporary airspace restrictions "just to feel good, without realizing the ramifications on access" to the air transportation system.
Phil Boyer, Andy Cebula, Jeff Myers, Karen Gebhart, Bruce Landsberg, John Yodice, Tom Haines, and Harvey Cohen
At the Team AOPA session on Saturday morning, Boyer reiterated Blakey's comments about pilots equipping for WAAS, saying both Congress and the FAA are eager to see the $3 billion system put to use and could become prepared to shift the funds to other programs if it's not. Andy Cebula, AOPA's senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs, discussed AOPA's many advocacy efforts. AOPA Air Safety Foundation Executive Director Bruce Landsberg praised general aviation pilots' safety record for this year, noting that, so far in 2004, the accident rate is down 12 percent.
At Thursday's opening luncheon, AOPA honored six journalists from the general (non-aviation) media with AOPA's Max Karant Journalism Award for fair, accurate and insightful" reporting on general aviation.
San Mateo County Times Managing Editor John Bowman and Copy Editor Eric Simons put together a special pull-out session, "100 Years of Human Flight," on the Centennial of Aviation that highlighted general aviation airports and aircraft.
In Restoring Planes, Rebuilding Dreams, reporter John Miller and videographer Tom Bishop captured the joy of restoring old aircraft. At a rural airport outside Seattle a group of young people help rebuild old aircraft in exchange for the chance to learn to fly. For at least one young man, the opportunity is a way out of trouble and to rekindle lost dreams.
First Flight, First Hand captured the thrill of December 7, 1903, and the exciting years immediately afterward. Using recordings of the Wright family, friends, and co-workers, reporter Hal Cannon and producer Taki Telonidis gave listeners an intimate portrayal of Orville and Wilbur Wright, two bicycle makers from Ohio who conquered the air.
Watch videos of the Karant Award presentations and the winning entry in the TV category [broadband connection recommended].
Hear the winning entry in the radio category [broadband connection recommended].
Taki Telonidis and Hal Cannon
Saturday night at the grand finale banquet, AOPA honored Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) with the J.B. "Doc" Hartranft award, given annually to the federal, state, or local government official who has done the greatest good on behalf of general aviation.
"Throughout his career on Capitol Hill, Rep. Young has shown a deep understanding of general aviation and has worked to ensure that GA remains a vital and integral part of the nation's aviation system," said Boyer. "We're honored that he looks to AOPA as an important source of information and input from the GA pilot community."
Watch a video of the Hartranft Award presentation [broadband connection recommended].
Phil Boyer and
The association also presented the Laurance P. Sharples Perpetual Award to Jack Tunstill of St. Petersburg, Fla., for his efforts to save Albert Whitted Airport.
"Jack epitomizes the ASN volunteer," said Boyer. "He spoke out in strong defense of Albert Whitted in the face of apparently overwhelming odds."
The Sharples Award is given annually to recognize the greatest selfless commitment to general aviation by a private citizen.
Watch a video of the Sharples Award presentation [broadband connection recommended].
Exhibitors reported brisk activity at the more than 500 exhibits in the Long Beach Convention Center. Exhibitors ran the gamut, from ACR Electronics to ZD Publishing. There were financing and tax specialists, charity and public-service organizations such as Angel Flight and Civil Air Patrol, avionics manufacturers, and aviation software publishers. Shoppers can try out new headsets or "test drive" the latest GPS units.
At nearby Long Beach Airport, visitors had the opportunity to see more than 70 aircraft, from two-seat trainers to small business jets.
Next year's AOPA Expo will be in Tampa, Florida, November 3-5.
October 23, 2004