The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) Expo closed Saturday after a successful three-day show attended by more than 8,500 pilots, aircraft owners, and aviation enthusiasts. General aviation's premier convention and trade show was held in Tampa, Florida, with exhibitors and seminars at the Tampa Convention Center and more than 100 aircraft on display at Peter O. Knight Airport.
"Thousands of pilots attend Expo because of the convenience," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "All of their general aviation needs, from new avionics to safety seminars, are under one roof."
This was the first time the annual convention was held in Tampa, where attendees enjoyed three days of blue skies and warm weather.
The first day of the event kicked off with a general session featuring Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta - the first cabinet-level officer ever to address an AOPA Expo in person. Speaking about the FAA proposal to make the Washington, D.C.-area Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) permanent, Mineta announced that he has directed the FAA to extend the comment period by 90 days and hold an AOPA-requested public meeting on the proposal. He added that nearly 18,000 comments had already been filed (since Expo that number has been surpassed) - many by AOPA members.
The Friday morning session, "The State of GA: LSAs to VLJs," gave Expo attendees an opportunity to ask questions of three general aviation leaders: Dan Johnson, President of LSA Marketing, Alan Klapmeier, CEO of Cirrus Design, and Vern Raburn, CEO of Eclipse Aviation.
Representing the broad spectrum of general aviation (GA), the three provided their unique insights into the light sport aircraft (LSA), technically advanced aircraft (TAA), and very light jets (VLJs) segments. The collective message to attendees was that whether they're looking for an affordable way to get started flying, practical transportation loaded with the latest technology and the feel of a luxury car, or their first foray into the flight levels, there's never been a better time to be part of GA.
AOPA's executive management team was the focus of the Saturday morning general session. Speaking to hundreds of Expo attendees, the senior staff discussed how to protect the freedom to fly, how to fly safer, and what the future may hold for GA.
"AOPA's successful advocacy efforts are a major reason why GA in the United States is still free and affordable, but that is challenged every day," said Boyer. "Right now, six out of 10 pilots across the country are concerned about their freedom to fly, and AOPA is working to protect that freedom, starting with the prevention of a permanent Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)."
The Tampa Convention Center was the Expo headquarters to 540 vendor exhibits selling everything from headsets to the latest in avionics.
"I want to look at Cessna and Lancair (now Columbia), and kick the tires of some of the aircraft," said AOPA Expo first-timer Russell Steiner of Fort Lauderdale who arrived in a Diamond Star. "And maybe get a better set of headphones." Steiner, whose house missed the brunt of Hurricane Wilma, said he was excited to come to Expo partly because he still does not have any electricity at his home.
The 70 hours of seminars were thought-provoking and entertaining. Some attendees made the trip to Expo solely for the wealth of knowledge available from the speakers.
Steve Keen of Lake Wales, Florida, became a private pilot in May 2005, and he is 10 hours into his instrument instruction. This was his first visit to AOPA Expo. "The seminars were the main reason I wanted to go," he said.
More than 1,200 aircraft flew into the Tampa region for Expo. At Peter O. Knight Airport, a short shuttle ride from the Convention Center, 103 of those planes were on display.
Pilots were encouraged to fly the virtual 2005 AOPA Commander Countdown sweepstakes airplane in the exhibit hall before going to Peter O. Knight airport to see the real thing. AOPA members have followed along as the Commander 112A has undergone major modifications throughout the year, including a new interior, top-of-the-line avionics, new paint, an upgraded engine, and three-blade propeller. One lucky pilot will win the Commander early next year.
New this year, the light sport aircraft (LSA) section was a popular attraction at the aircraft display area. Visitors had an opportunity to climb in, or in some cases, fly the new models that have been approved since the light sport aircraft rule was released.
At the welcome luncheon on Thursday, AOPA honored members of print and broadcast media for their fair and insightful coverage of general aviation. Richard Murphy Werry (KIMN-FM), Devon Hubbard Sorlie (Soundings), Chris Dunn (KDVR-TV), Marissa Tejada (WOFL-TV), Jarrod Miller (WOFL-TV), David Marshall (WPBS and WXXI), and William Lang (WPBS and WXXI) each received the association's prestigious 2005 Max Karant Journalism Award, which honors the best of "fair, accurate, and insightful" reporting on GA in the general (nonaviation) media.
For the first time, AOPA presented a Special Citation for Excellence "for promoting general aviation through the art of film making" to Brian Terwilliger for his documentary film One Six Right.
"In an age of sensationalized news reports about aviation security and safety, this is an opportunity to recognize members of the media who instead provided the truth about general aviation to the non-flying public," said Boyer.
The closing banquet on Saturday night featured the 2005 Hartranft and Sharples award presentations.
Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) was honored with the J.B. "Doc" Hartranft Award. 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.
"Jim has been a friend of AOPA's for many years and is recognized by his peers and by the aviation community as an aviation expert. Even though he isn't a pilot, I call him 'Mr. Aviation,'" said Boyer. "As the ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Jim has an influential role and has served the aviation community well."
AOPA recognized Euel Kinsey's efforts to gain political and financial support for Coleman A. Young/Detroit City Airport (DET) by presenting him with the Laurence P. Sharples Perpetual Award. The Sharples Award is given annually in recognition of the greatest selfless commitment to general aviation by a private individual.
"Euel is a great example of an Airport Support Network volunteer," said Boyer. "His efforts resulted in greater awareness of Detroit City Airport's importance in the community, and the importance of general aviation nationwide."
Also at the closing banquet, AOPA took a few moments to recognize some milestones among members of the audience.
Boyer introduced Edwin Hoffmire of Clifton, New Jersey, who at age 96 was the oldest pilot to attend Expo. The youngest pilot was Laura Thompson, 18, of Tampa. She received a round of applause in absentia because, Boyer explained, she was on duty at Peter O. Knight Airport, where she works to pay for her flying lessons. The newest private pilot at Expo was Sherry Gettinger of Fairview, North Carolina, who earned her certificate on October 27. And, the pilot who traveled the farthest was Howard Wolvington, who flew his 1959 Piper Comanche 250 from Seattle, Washington, to Florida - a trip of more than 2,000 nm.
With the end of Expo 2005, it's time to look ahead to next year. Plan to attend the 2006 AOPA Expo in Palm Springs, California, November 9-11. The day before the show, the popular parade of planes will wind from the airport through the streets of Palm Springs to the convention center.
As always, attendees will have the chance to see hundreds of exhibits featuring all the latest products for the GA aircraft and pilot; choose from dozens of entertaining and informative seminars; and attend great social events, like the always-popular party at the Palm Springs Air Museum.
The more than 407,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has represented the interests of general aviation pilots since 1939. General aviation includes all flying except the scheduled airlines and the military. Nearly two thirds of all U.S. pilots, and three quarters of the GA pilots, are AOPA members.
November 10, 2005