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DeLand Sport Aviation Showcase shows promise

Next step is to attract more visitors

The first DeLand Sport Aviation Village and Showcase an hour north of Orlando and 30 minutes from Daytona Beach, Florida, attracted sparse crowds Nov. 3 through 5, but achieved what an aviation trade show is supposed to do—sell airplanes. A few aircraft sales were made and solid prospects contacted, per airshow organizer Jana Filip.

Twenty vendors of all levels of products, not just aircraft, indicated they made sales. One reported an aircraft is “99 percent sold.” Another manufacturer reported, “Great potential leads.” John Harden of Aviation Insurance Resources said he had one serious customer who plans to buy a BushCat light sport aircraft by SkyReach and insure it with him. Don Reece, dealer for the Ekolot line of light sport aircraft, said he got two strong leads for sales from the show.

Filip is formerly director of the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring that next takes place Jan. 25 through 28, but she now heads the competing show in DeLand. Is the light sport aircraft industry big enough for two trade shows? Probably not, but the industry has survived on low sales figures despite expert opinions 15 years ago that the industry would shrivel to five or six companies by now. There are more than 100 models of light sport aircraft for sale from scores of manufacturers, most of them in Europe.

If you are not a pilot but attended the DeLand show, you noticed there were no aerobatic performances as is the case at many trade shows, but mass parachute jumps, formation flyovers, and the constant hum of demonstration flights for potential customers provided entertainment. A music group played to an always empty large tent at show center, indicative of the light crowds. The final total for the three days was 3,822. Three seminar tents hosted technical symposiums. It had the layout of a mini Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In and Expo that takes place at Lakeland each spring.

JMB CEO Jean-Maire Guisset alongside the VL3 at the Deland Sport Aviation Showcase. Photo by Alton Marsh.The show also brought publicity and legitimacy to new players, at least in the United States, like JMB Aircraft of the Czech Republic where many of today’s top light sport aircraft are manufactured. JMB manufactures a speedy two-place aircraft that will go 145 knots true airspeed in the kitbuilt experimental category, or with a different set of wings will slow to 120 knots to fit into the light sport category limitations. Once it is approved to fly in this country it will be demonstrated in Lakeland and Phoenix. It costs $160,000 to $170,000 depending on options.

It was also a perfect showcase for explaining the recent switchover from Flight Design to AeroJones Americas, after AeroJones of Taiwan acquired the rights to the CT series and four-place C4 still in development. Both the establishment of AeroJones Americas, named after Jones Chen of Taiwan, and the actual transfer of rights to the aircraft are in final stages of approval, said CEO Christopher Benaiges, who also works as a regional airline pilot. AeroJones Chief Operating Officer John Hurst said the Flight Design aircraft by AeroJones are the first to get Dynon’s new HDX glass cockpit with high-resolution screens and an updated touchscreen system. It is for the CTLSi model. A new series of programmer buttons make it just as easy to operate the two screens with buttons and knobs. An engine information strip has been added to the bottom of the primary display in front of the pilot. The HDX system is a $580 option, bringing the total price of the CTLSi up to $174,490. The aircraft are officially referred to, for the moment, as Flight Design aircraft by AeroJones. AeroJones has manufactured the aircraft for several years. One of the models made in Taiwan was displayed at the show and was seen to have excellent fit and finish.

Flight Design ran into financial difficulties with the development of the C4 and the move of manufacturing to Taiwan, but continues as a design company. Many of the C4 engineers have been hired by AeroJones under a new German firm, AeroJones Germany. During the time Flight Design was inactive, Flight Design dealers continued manufacturing at AeroJones with their own funds.

Audiences gather for one of many demo flights during the DeLand Sport Aviation Showcase. Photo by Alton Marsh.The DeLand city leaders have a long-term goal of attracting manufacturers of small aircraft to a sport aviation “village” at DeLand Municipal Airport, and that’s why there will be a second DeLand Sport Aviation Village and Showcase Nov. 2 through 4, 2017. The first phase is to add taxiways and hangars to the airport, followed in the future by large buildings that could be used as factories. The entire plan could take four years. Officials of AeroJones were courted and are considering other locations in Florida, including an already established presence in Miami.

Attendance was light, but the show won praise from vendors.

“It was about what I expected for a first year,” said one vendor who asked to remain off the record. He said his company, a large manufacturer of kit planes, will return next year. Another company that manufactures powered parachutes indicated they attended to “support Jana,” the show coordinator. Also seen at the show were powered parachutes, trikes (a delta-wing, powered kite is flown by shifting the pilot’s weight), and gyrocopters from AutoGyro of Germany.

Spectators of all ages attend the first DeLand Aviation Showcase in DeLand, Florida. Photo by Alton Marsh.An industry source based at Sebring said the DeLand show is not going to replace the show at Sebring, adding that the Sebring show is “…too well established.” It has operated more than 10 years. Harden agreed with the statement, saying Sebring is an inexpensive show for both vendors and customers. Certainly the location and Florida’s November weather favor the DeLand show. Weather in south central Florida routinely prevents or delays customers from attending the Sebring show. In recent years the show was shut down both on the ground and in the air by high winds. Low ceilings and storm fronts blocking Florida off from the rest of the country are common in January. Sebring is nearly twice the driving time from Orlando compared to the DeLand show and a shorter drive than for DeLand attendees who land in Tampa.

The DeLand show had nearly 100 vendors who mostly reported visitor traffic as “light,” an estimation confirmed by the AOPA crew covering the show from late on its starting day thorough its final morning.

Sebring also has on-field light sport companies—particularly Tecnam’s showroom and dealership and Phil Lockwood’s long-established small aircraft and Rotax service and sales facility.

Are there enough customers for both shows? One attendee noted the two shows occur at different times of the year, perhaps attracting a different crowd for each. The destination for both is Florida, hardly a difficult sell, the attendee said.

The next three years will determine if there is to be a winner that becomes the main or only light sport show.The DeLand Sport Aviation Village. Photo by Alton Marsh.

Alton Marsh

Alton K. Marsh

Freelance journalist
Alton K. Marsh is a former senior editor of AOPA Pilot and is now a freelance journalist specializing in aviation topics.
Topics: Light Sport Aircraft, Events

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