The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Expo was held Nov. 9 through 11, in Palm Springs, Calif. The expo attracted 13,000 attendees, breaking its 2002 attendance record, when Palm Springs also hosted the event; 2,550 aircraft flew in for the event.
“Palm Springs has again proved to be extremely popular among expo attendees,” said Phil Boyer, AOPA president. “Pilots from as far away as the East Coast flew in to enjoy general aviation’s premier trade show and convention—and Palm Springs’ fabulous weather.”
Parade of Planes
The morning before the expo, enthusiastic pilots and locals lined streets to get up close to the passing aircraft in the Parade of Planes, which featured more than 100 planes, including piston-engine singles, jets and turboprops. They taxied from the airport to the convention center, where they remained on display for the duration of the show. The aircraft taxied back to the airport on Saturday afternoon.
Each morning of the expo, standing-room-only crowds flocked to hear the daily general sessions. In Thursday morning’s session, a panel, moderated by Boyer, discussed proposed user fees. Congressman Sam Graves (R-Mo.); Tom Poberezny, president of the Experimental Aircraft Association; Peter Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association; and Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association, spoke about the potential pitfalls of a user-fee-based air traffic control system.
AOPA will continue to make its case that the FAA should be funded with taxes, not user fees, and that Congress should retain oversight control for the nation’s air transportation system.
“We will overcome this ill-conceived notion, just as we have done three times in the last decade,” Boyer said.
The Friday morning general session featured Marion Blakey, FAA administrator, who said she did not support a new funding system that would entail “broad user fees.” The comment was met with applause, but during a lively Q&A period that followed her presentation, an AOPA member pressed her for clarification on the word “broad.” Blakey said that everybody, including the public, who uses the air traffic control system, should pay their fair share through a continued general fund contribution.
“We do not want to create a funding system that stifles general aviation,” she said.
Encroachment around airports concerns pilots across the country. Blakey vowed to enforce regulations to curb development around federally obligated airports.
“The condos will just have to go somewhere else,” she said.
Under Blakey’s watch, the FAA has seen quantum leaps in technology. She thanked AOPA for its support of ADS-B technology in the GA cockpit, and for its advocacy regarding Wide Area Augmentation System GPS approaches.
The flight service contract, perhaps the biggest change during Blakey’s tenure, allows Lockheed Martin to supply critical weather briefing services. She announced that the FAA created a flight service oversight board, with an AOPA seat, to ensure quality service for pilots.
Blakey also took time to honor the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, for its continuing and dedicated work in advancing the cause of air safety. She presented Bruce Landsberg, the foundation’s executive director, with the first Thomas H. Wardleigh Award. The award is named for the late Thomas Wardleigh, the “dean of Alaska aviation,” the former chairman of the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation board and a lifelong advocate for aviation safety in Alaska. The award honors an individual or organization for making a significant impact on aviation safety; creating innovative training, equipment or other improvements to safety; and for showing leadership in aviation safety.
Boyer kicked off Saturday morning’s general session by announcing an AOPA record high membership: 409,318. AOPA members had the opportunity to hear directly from their association’s top leadership. With the theme, “The Future of AOPA,” association officers took to the stage and detailed the status of current and future AOPA issues and plans. Featured speakers included Jeff Myers, executive vice president of communications; Andy Cebula, executive vice president of government affairs; Karen Gebhart, executive vice president of non-dues revenue; and Bruce Landsberg.
Myers explained that AOPA members play a key role in alerting the AOPA media relations department about negative general aviation news stories. AOPA responds to each of those stories, as it did following the recent fatal accident involving Cory Lidle, New York Yankees’ pitcher.
Myers also gave members a first look at the redesign of AOPA’s website. The newly overhauled site will debut in 2007.
Keeping airports open is a top priority for AOPA members; Cebula highlighted recent “wins” in California, including those in Oceanside, Bakersfield and Santa Monica. He also spoke about the recent federal election, stating that 90 percent of the AOPA-supported candidates were elected.
Gebhart presented details about a new credit card rewards program from AOPA and Bank of America. Such programs are an important part of AOPA’s commitment to keep membership dues at a low $39 annual rate.
The aircraft accident rate has improved by 71 percent over the past 40 years, thanks in part to the work of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. Landsberg spoke about new foundation programs being developed and announced an accident forgiveness program available from AIG Aviation, as an incentive to participate in the safety programs.
Featured speaker Barry Schiff, legendary pilot, journalist and author, spoke at the opening luncheon on Thursday. Schiff kept attendees on the edge of their seats as he told stories that made it clear why he still loves aviation, after thousands of hours of flight.
Also during the opening luncheon, the association honored journalists with the prestigious 2006 Max Karant Journalism Awards. Named for the late founder and longtime editor of AOPA Pilot magazine and AOPA’s first senior vice president, the awards recognize non-aviation journalists for fair and insightful general aviation coverage.
The honorees this year included Jeff Hirsch and Jeff Barnhill of WKRC 12 in Cincinnati, Ohio; Miles O’Brien of CNN; Jason Moore of Alaska’s KTUU; Jason Paur of NPR radio; and Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Daily News.
At the luncheon, Tom Haines, AOPA Pilot editor in chief, announced the winner of the AOPA Pilot 2006 general aviation photography contest. From more than 2,000 entries, Brian Dary’s “A Good Morning” photo took top honors (view the photo online by visiting Virtual Expo at www.aopa.org/expo/2006/virtual/). The photo featured an Alaskan sunrise behind a de Havilland DH-2 Beaver, floating at the Juneau float pond near Juneau International Airport. Dary won a $1,750 cash prize.
Exhibitors, seminars and aircraft display
With more than 500 vendors, the overflowing exhibit hall featured aircraft manufacturers, avionics, flight gear, navigation tools, flight training services and much more.
Educational and entertaining seminars ran throughout the three-day show. More than 60 hours of seminars featured speakers on topics such as safety, aircraft ownership, medical certification, interior renovations and instrument flying.
Among the presenters was Erik Lindbergh, AOPA Project Pilot spokesman. During the first AOPA Project Pilot Invitation to Fly seminar, he encouraged members to share their aviation motivation and passion—or “juice”—with others. He said that motivation plays an important role in those interested in learning to fly. More than 200 people attended the seminars, and nearly 240 people signed up to participate in Project Pilot.
Outside the convention center, more than 100 airplanes were on display, including everything from light sport aircraft, to single-engine propeller aircraft, to very light jets. AOPA’s Win a Six in ’06 Sweepstakes airplane—a 1967 Cherokee Six—headlined the display. The Six was making its first public appearance following its new paint job and interior refurbishment. A lucky AOPA member will win the highly modified plane in early 2007. (Complete rules, eligibility requirements and methods of entry are available online, at www.aopa.org/sweeps/officialrules.html.)
Saturday night’s closing banquet featured the 2006 Hartranft and Sharples award presentations.
U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (R-Ky.) received the 2006 J.B. “Doc” Hartranft Award. Named for AOPA’s first employee and 38-year president of the association, the award is given annually to a federal, state or local government official who AOPA believes has done the greatest good on behalf of general aviation.
“Congressman Rogers has been a longtime supporter of GA,” said Boyer. “We’ve always found him willing to listen to our concerns and our ideas. His steadfast support and commitment to GA programs have strengthened the aviation community across the country.”
Felix Maguire earned the 2006 Laurence P. Sharples Perpetual Award. The award is presented annually in recognition of the greatest selfless commitment to general aviation by a private individual.
“Felix has worked relentlessly on behalf of general aviation in Alaska,” said Boyer. “From improvements for VFR pilots—including the unprecedented establishment of a VFR route across the Bering Straits to Russia—to the cutting edge of instrument flight using ADS-B, Felix has used his broad aviation background to improve safety.”
Renowned illusionist and mentalist Jason Randal entertained the crowd at the closing banquet. The longtime AOPA member is an ATP, master CFII, and Gold Seal instructor for airplanes (single- and multi-engine) and helicopters. Randal has made more than 100 television appearances and has wowed audiences of all types and sizes around the world with his unique brand of mental magic.
AOPA Expo 2007
Next year, AOPA Expo lands in Hartford, Conn., for the first time. Mark you calendar for October 4-6.
For more information, visit [http://www.aopa.org].