Get a bunch of AOPA members together at the organization’s annual gathering of the clan and they can make Mardi Gras seem like a dull event.
The AOPA clan rendezvoused a few weeks ago, Oct. 24-26, in balmy Palm Springs, Calif. AOPA Expo 2002, attracting a record attendance of 11,702, was launched with a
parade—not your ordinary parade, but a parade of 76 airplanes taxiing down the streets of Palm Springs.
There was no long-legged majorette leading this parade, but something just as pretty—a bright red Waco biplane that could be the twin of the one still under restoration,
which the AOPA will give away to some lucky member next year.
The Waco led the way from Palm Springs Airport to the Convention Center, where aircraft including a two-place Citabria, Citation CJ1, and Maverick’s classy little homebuilt
twinjet took their places in static exhibit, alongside a Robinson R-22 helicopter and an R-44 that did their parading in the sky.
A series of events was launched with an opening luncheon salute to the media, where three people were singled out to receive the Max Karant Award for excellence in
aviation coverage, named for the first editor of “AOPA PILOT.”
This year’s honorees were James Fallows of the “Atlantic Monthly” magazine, for his piece “Freedom of the Skies,” excerpted from his highly successful book “Free Flight”;
Michelle Ceplic of WGBA-TV in Green Bay, Wis., for her feature on a 60-year-old retired accountant who realized his boyhood dream of learning to fly; and Chris Lehman, a
reporter for WNIJ Radio in DeKalb, Ill., for his piece on the Meigs Field controversy in which he solicited comments from those who stood on both sides of the controversial
issue of the future of the Chicago airport.
The luncheon was followed by an evening poolside welcome reception. There, members gained new friends and met with old acquaintances. AOPA people are the
friendliest people in the world, with the exception perhaps of the Flying Farmers, who made their presence known with a booth. The big event Friday night was a gala party
at the Palm Springs Air Museum, where sumptuous dining took place alongside a shiny B-17G, while a 14-piece band played all the great music of the big band era. If you
got tired of that music, which was not likely, you could move to another of the museum’s galleries where there was a smaller but equally good group.
The crowning event in the convention’s partying mode was the gala closing banquet featuring political satirist Mark Russell, whom you’ve probably seen on PBS TV singing
his bouncy political ditties while accompanying himself on a banner-draped baby grand.
Plenty of serious business was mixed in with the festive events. The opening general session gave expo attendees a chance to hear from Marion Blakey, the new FAA
administrator, in one of her first public appearances before a large audience of pilots.
Blakey said a lot of things pilots were happy to hear, referring to the freedom to fly as “a basic American freedom essential to the American character.”
Blakey cited some of the activities that make general aviation a vital element in our transportation system, including mercy flights, and referred to the importance of
overnight delivery services to small business, pointing out that GA employs 1.3 million people.
Blakey, who served as chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, had great praise for AOPA President Phil Boyer, with whom she had met a number of times in her
short tenure. As an example of one of the results of working together, she announced that the FAA had adopted the AOPA suggestion to use driver’s licenses with photos
as pilot IDs instead of creating a new, costly system under which a special pilot’s ID would be created.
Blakey emphasized the importance of security and the need for a willingness to work together on that issue, and said that TSA and FAA are working shoulder to shoulder.
“A mile of highway gets you one mile. A mile of runway gets you anywhere. I like that,” Blakey said, noting that it was a statement used by the AOPA. “Air travel is a
blessing and it extends the greatness of our country.”
The second day’s general session was devoted to summing up the state of GA 409 days after 9/11 by Drew Steketee, CEO of Be-A-Pilot; Paula Derks, executive director
of the Aircraft Electronics Association; Russ Meyer, president and CEO of Cessna Aircraft; and Alan Klapmeier, president of Cirrus Design.
Steketee reported that the current number of student pilots is the highest since 1993. Derks told the standing-room-only audience that the avionics industry has the ability
today to deal with the question of providing TFR data. Klapmeier emphasized that the largest unregulated security threat is SUVs and trucks, not aircraft.
“We are not the problem,” he said. “We have to communicate what GA means to the average person.”
At the final general session, Boyer introduced the key members of his team, each of whom outlined the initiatives of their department.
The Civil Air Patrol honored Boyer at the closing banquet, presenting him with an impressive sculpture of an eagle for his efforts to keep GA facilities in operation after 9/11.
His efforts, they said, helped them carry out their missions.
Boyer has led the battle to preserve airports, curtail unnecessary regulations that would restrict GA pilots’ freedom to fly, get a more responsible system of TFRs so that
pilots are given sufficient notice of such flight restrictions, and much more. In the face of all the adversity GA has faced, Boyer has led AOPA to a new record high of
387,183 members, which, he pointed out, represents 61 percent of the nation’s pilot population.
Three other prestigious AOPA awards were presented at the banquet. Two Illinois legislators, Senator Richard J. Durbin and Congressman William O. Lipinski, were co-
recipients of the Hartranft Award named for AOPA’s first employee, J.B. “Doc” Hartranft, who died earlier this year. The award honors political leaders who have made the
greatest contribution to the advancement of GA in the previous year. Durbin and Lipinski were honored for their efforts to assure the survival of Meigs Field.
The Sharples Award, which represents the commitment of a private citizen to GA, went to Gordon Feingold, who served as the AOPA airport support network representative
at Santa Barbara Municipal Airport in California, where he led the battle to defeat a proposed noise curfew and won the first major GA improvements at the airport in 30
During the expo, attendees had the opportunity to choose from dozens of seminars on a wide variety of aviation subjects, including sessions conducted by two of the
annual events’ perennial favorites, Rod Machado and Barry Schiff.
The curtain came down just as it went up, with the parade of planes, this time back to the airport. Next year it’s back to the east coast, where the “City of Brotherly Love,”
Philadelphia, will host Expo 2003.