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01/15/07 - BIGGER AND BETTER: SEBRING’S THIRD LSA EXPO A ROUSING SUCCESS
The fastest-growing segment in aviation - sport pilot/light-sport aircraft - was on full display last week during the third annual U.S. Sport Aviation Expo at Sebring Regional Airport in Florida. Although organizers do not keep attendance figures, Expo Chairman Bob Wood said he felt about 25-30 percent more people came through the gates than last year. “Just a great event,” he said. “Our parking lots were overflowing, and we had to open some lots up we had not used before.”
The big draw, of course, was the airplanes, about 100 of them on display with many making demonstration flights (an estimated 600-700 flights made). Nearly 120 exhibitors filled the Sebring ramp and other airport areas with scores of well-established LSA, as well as engines, avionics, propellers, coatings, and other aircraft components.
Seen for the first time were the new amphibian from Seamax USA; the Apollo Fox LSA; and Fantasy Air’s new Mystique. IndUS Aircraft showed the LoPresti speed mods it will install on its new Thorpedo model appropriately named the “LP”; Infinity showed off its Commander powered parachute, just certificated in either the special or experimental LSA categories; AviaDesign’s new A-16 Sport Falcon, which has just begun flight tests.
Perhaps the biggest draw was Cessna’s proof of concept LSA, dubbed the Cessna Sport, which made its first public flights and had what proved to be one of the most popular exhibits of the Expo.
New engines on display included a four-cylinder inline diesel from Vulcan Aircraft Engines and, the UL260i from Belgian manufacturer UL Power.
EAA’s well-attended forums covered a wide range of topics and featured expert presenters from the association, the FAA, and the LSA industry. As it has done at major aviation events and LSA gatherings, EAA provided between 60 and 70 free sport pilot student pilot certificates Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Wood said one of the most apparent changes over previous years was the general knowledge base of those attending. “Our first year, people would come in and ask them (exhibitors) about sport pilot, what a light-sport aircraft is, and how one can get a pilot’s license,” he said. “This year people came with much more knowledge about the rule, the aircraft, and now they’re talking turkey with the exhibitors - talking about flying characteristics, and so on.
“They’re a much more educated group, thanks to EAA and all it has done with publications, their sport pilot tour, and websites. The difference is immeasurable.”
A very well-run event
Perhaps the most accurate indicator of the event’s success came from the exhibitors themselves. Many reported brisk sales and even more substative inquiries.
“I just spoke with an exhibitor who said he accepted deposits on three aircraft and had several more solid inquiries,” Wood said on Monday. “Another sold six to dealers and two more to walk-ins. A lot of planes were sold over the past weekend.”
Wood also praised a couple of EAA chapters that provided crucial volunteer support for the Expo, including EAA Chapter 66, which parked/directed taxiing aircraft and ferried pilots; and EAA Chapter 1420, which helped staff the busy EAA membership tent.
EAA’s Ron Wagner, who coordinated the Expo forum schedule, praised the Sebring organizers for putting on a terrific show that not only launched the New Year, but also helped continue the growing momentum of sport pilot/light-sport aircraft.
“A terrific start for 2007,” he said. “When I think back to the first Sebring, we literally have come a long way in such a short period of time. There are now 46 certificated LSA when back in late 2004 there were none. We also had a full forum for flight school reps and instructors, which shows that instructors and flight schools are beginning to recognize the opportunities before them.”
Wagner also had the chance to address the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA) annual meeting on Friday night where he thanked members for their participation in the SP tour series, plus previewed several upcoming activities scheduled in 2007 including the LSA Mall at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, regional fly-ins, and other possible events.
Wood mentioned the Sebring event would be held a week later than this year, January 17-20 to move the event well past the holiday season.