Jana Filip, who directed the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo for five years, resigned Jan. 23 immediately after the show’s conclusion.
Filip, who had been involved since the beginning of the 12-year-old show in Sebring, Florida, said in a Feb. 1 email that she had given four weeks’ notice, but it remained unclear when, exactly, her tenure would end. Filip declined to elaborate on her abrupt departure.
Sebring Airport Executive Director Mike Willingham issued a statement Feb. 1 noting that Filip “will move on to new opportunities and increased family time,” and that planning is underway for 2017, and the show’s dates may shift in light of a run of bad weather.
“SRA appreciates Jana’s dedication to the event over the past five years,” Willingham said in the statement. He declined to elaborate on Filip’s tenure or departure in a telephone interview, though he confirmed that the central Florida airport, which has hosted the event geared to light sport and other recreational aviation since the beginning in 2004, will continue the show in 2017.
“We absolutely, positively remain committed to the expo,” Willingham said.
After two days of sunshine and mild conditions Jan. 20 and 21, Willingham closed the show not long after it opened Jan. 22, with radar images depicting heavy rain and possible thunderstorms headed toward Sebring. Attendees and exhibitors were directed to leave the grounds, and the show reopened Jan. 23 with winds gusting to 35 mph grounding nearly all flights and prompting the closure of some tents.
Willingham said a new director will be hired, and the staff is meanwhile studying past years’ weather patterns to determine if shifting the dates will increase the chance of favorable weather. The fair weather on Jan. 20 had raised hopes that a long run of foul weather might have ended, and Filip was enthusiastic on opening day that there were no fronts standing in the way of aircraft arrivals. The good weather continued Jan. 21, but not beyond.
Willingham said attendance figures were not yet available, but the staff expected that Jan. 20 and Jan. 21 attendance would break records for the first and second days of the four-day show, up about 15 percent pending confirmation. Attendance on the final two days, and the show overall, was disappointing for organizers and exhibitors alike. Willingham said it was not yet clear if the fair weather enjoyed in many prior years can be expected to return, or if the more recent run represents a new normal.
“It doesn’t seem to be normal to us,” Willingham said, but vowed, “we are going to make the best out of it.”
Tom Peghiny, president of Flight Design USA, one of the original exhibitors and a company that has taken part every year since, said the show’s timing and location had been an advantage until the recent run.
“The weather has been a problem, but you also thought that being the first air show of the season and being in a time of year when people want to go to Florida makes a lot of sense,” Peghiny said. “I think we did get six or seven good years.”
Peghiny, the U.S. leader of a longtime light sport market leader, said Filip has been a significant part of the expo’s success and appeal to exhibitors.
“I’m sorry to see her go because we really enjoyed working with Jana and her husband, Greg,” Peghiny said. “I thought the show was very well-run.”
Peghiny said the logistics are easy “and a lot of people that were interested in our product showed up” to the expo over the course of its history.
Peghiny said he was concerned that Filip’s departure would deal another blow to the show: “Of course I am.”
Willingham remained steadfastly positive, and said in the Feb. 1 statement that the expo “is and will continue to be an important part of building an industry with aircraft sales that far outpaces the rest of general aviation.”