ANN Wraps Up Its On-Scene Coverage
We pride ourselves on
being the guys who go there ourselves to find out -- and we saw few
of our fellow aero-journalists there -- but we have to admit we
bagged day three. The reason was simple: howling winds that kept us
grounded, spectators away, and left exhibitors hustling to protect
their planes from nature's rage.
It might have been entertaining to photograph, but it didn't
advance the narrative of the Expo too much. So we took the day
doing other things -- like writing a longer Day Two story than we'd
otherwise have done -- and we came back to hit Sebring hard on
Sunday, Day Four, and the closing day of the show.
As ever on a closing day, things were a little bit thinner, but
the weather was beautiful and lots of flying was happening. Jim
took advantage of the opportunity to get up in the Evektor
SportStar, the Legend Cub, and one or two others. Nose was still
coming off a nasty flu and decided not to contaminate anyone's
airplane. Planes we both still want to fly include the Thorp T-211,
the CT and the AAI Sparrowhawk (Nose had a brief demo of an RAF
with AAI mod a couple of years ago). Nose really wants to try the
new T-Craft, too... instant nostalgia with Zero-time
"This Is The Best Plane At The Show"
Lots of vendors made that statement with the passion of True
Believers, but only Danny Defelici of Sport Aircraft Works/Czech
Aircraft Works made it about one he wasn't really actively
promoting, the Dynamic WT-9. It isn't a light sport aircraft, with
its scalding speed and retractable gear, but it's an experimental
that can be built very rapidly through the Skyshops quick-build
program. Two things are holding it back: price, and supply.
"As you see it here, the plane's about $110,000. That's more
than lots of people want to spend, but compare it to, say, the
Sting. It goes much faster, and it takes off slower."
We remarked that it looked like a pretty hot plane. Cousin to a
Lancair or something.
"Would you believe me if I said I could get that off the runway
at 33 mph? I can," Defelici said. He went on to praise the plane's
comfort and speed, and to rave about the handling. It was clear
that he was pretty passionate about this machine. But, according to
Defelici, what holds him back from plugging the composite speedster
is that there just aren't that many to be had.
"The manufacturer (in the Czech Republic) is not keen on selling
to America anyway, as they can sell all that they can build right
next door in Germany. The Germans love this plane."
So sometimes, maybe, the best product doesn't win. On the other
side of the coin, the Sport Plane Expo is probably not the best
place to promote a 170-kt retractable anyway.
Lead Time A Sales Killer
One thing that seemed to be a near consensus among dealers was
that when a customer approached them to buy a plane, he or she
wanted to buy a plane NOW. A three or six month delivery delay is a
deal killer. Of course, with so many vendors competing, and so many
of them offering roughly comparable products, it's very much a
buyer's market, as we can see in the vendors' scramble to deal with
every customer objection and meet every conceivable customer need.
But one thing that even the most well-meaning and
customer-service-oriented dealer can't do is accelerate the
Light Sport Egalitarianism
Four months from now you will get the impression that all these
guys hate each other, like a parody of Tom Lehrer's "National
"The ultralight folks hate the trike folks, and the trike
folks hate the 'light folks, to hate all but the right folks, is an
old established rule And the composite folks hate the bushplanes,
and the PPCs hate the cub folks, all the wrong ways that we rub
folks, and everybody hates the gyros."
Of course, that'll be at Sun-n-Fun, where everybody fights for
stick time in the zero-sum game of a cramped schedule where light
aviation is somewhere between a reluctant afterthought and an
By comparison, everybody here got along -- no whining that the
powered parachutes went over their allotted time, because there WAS
no allotted time. All the vast variety of light sport aircraft
flew, they did it safely, and they did it without an army of
power-drunk Jobsworths micromanaging things.
Dare I mention that they did this while constantly keeping the
intersecting runway open for GA arrivals and departure? How about,
that exhibitors were easily able to roll a plane out from their
stand onto the taxiway and demo the plane to a prospect at any
The contrast between this and the bigger show held just up the
road in Lakeland couldn't be starker.
If you want to exhibit and demo a light sport plane at
Sun-n-Fun, you need three at least: One for your stand, because
once it's on the stand there it pretty much stays until the show's
out; one to fly in the LSA exhibition, where you can fly by and
people can see your plane fly, but only with the pilot aboard; and
one for taking customers on demo rides or introductory lessons,
which you have to keep at South Lakeland or Plant City. Here you
could get by with one plane and one of those barber-shop
clock-signs for your booth: "back at 3:30!"
No surprise that we heard no gripes about the organizers, and no
complaints about safety. The pilots flying took safety into their
own hands, with very positive results; we saw one tire go flat all
weekend, and that's it. (There was a GA guy arriving that
landed gear-up in a Lancair... no injuries, except to his pride,
and soon, to his bank account; but it had squatto to do with the
About Those GA Arrivals And Departures
There were a lot of people flying in to check-out the expo, and
some of them surprising folks in surprising planes. Nose saw one of
the Van's factory demonstrators land and depart after a few hours,
although he didn't see who was flying that plane -- it was a long
way from home.
A more surprising arrival was a Citation X. The Cessna hot-rod
(look at it, it's all motors!) disgorged: a team of high-ranking
Cessna executives. Were they looking for some firm to buy? Getting
ideas for the long-rumored Cirrus-Killer? Sizing up some of the
smaller planes as competition for the 172? (A big portion of SLSAs
are going to flight schools and FBOs, which can conduct training in
them and rent them, and buy three or four of them for one 172 pink
slip). Or were they just here to check out the show? Could be. A
lot of high-ranking Cessna types, including CEO Jack Pelton (who
wasn't in this group), love sport aviation, so maybe it's nothing
more than that.
Whatever it was, they weren't saying.
Another Feather In the Organizers' Caps...
We already mentioned how they managed a safe, friendly,
low-drama show, but we also have to laud their flexibility. Walking
around on the last day of the show, we kept hearing that this show
was MUCH better in terms of attendance, and more importantly,
qualified prospects in attendance, than last year's (October,
2004's), despite the hurricane-induced date change.
There were several possible causes of the improvement: the word
on sport aviation is getting "out there," the vendors did more to
help promote it, the second of any event is usually better attended
than the inaugural.
But one thing exhibitors kept mentioning was that January might
just be a better time to hold this event than October. "We're
getting a lot of snowbirds," Steve Cohen, who represents the
Brazilian Corsario seaplane in the US, noted. He wasn't
complaining. Other vendors noted the exact same thing. People from
cold climes were just about sick enough of snow to come to
The organizers kept hearing this, too, and they quickly spread
the word that the Third Annual US Sport Aviation Expo would NOT
take place, as scheduled, in October 2006, but in January 2007.
This might have caused some exhibitors to shuffle schedules, but if
any of them were unhappy about it, they didn't mention it to us.
Every one we spoke to about the change gave every appearance of
being delighted. Now that's operational flexibility in action.
The specific dates for the nest Sport Aviation Expo are January
11-14, 2007. It's already marked on our calendar.
Sport Pilot Student Licenses
We mentioned earlier that EAA had a Designated Examiner giving
out free Sport Pilot Student Licenses. Aero-News asked EAA's Ron
Wagner how that program went.
"We issued, I think, 73 licenses. We only had the Examiner for
that day, and we ran out of daylight, and at the same time he ran
out of forms, so he had to stop," Wagner said. He went on to
explain that the form was quite time-consuming to fill out, and any
mistake requires that it be started over from the beginning. "The
FAA is very particular about how this form is completed." So Wagner
thought that the Sport Pilot Student License giveaway was a great
success, and EAA will definitely be doing it at Sun-n-Fun and
again, of course, at Oshkosh.
"Oshkosh is best, because it's home and we can pull everything
together there," Wagner assured us. They won't be running out of
forms at Oshkosh.
At least one of the freshly-minted students was using the living
daylights out of his license, and had logged his first two hours of
instruction before the end of the show.
This tells us that it's a real good thing to have a lot of DEs
and plenty of forms at these shows. It might even be an opportunity
for a DE to make a few bucks issuing the licenses, although it's
probably better for the sport if they keep doing it on a volunteer
I've never felt so positive about the Sport Pilot rule and Light
Sport Aircraft certification than I was at the end of the Expo.
This is really looking like a new way to bring new blood to our
anemic sport and industry.
In talking to some of the new Sport Pilot prospects, I found
that barriers that most of us who fly under traditional rules
thought were trivial really were barriers keeping motivated people
out of flying. And they weren't all the barriers we'd think. One
thing I heard over and over again was that the TIME that it takes
-- both in instructional hours and in calendar months -- to earn a
Private Pilot License was prohibitive to these new pilots. (And,
truth be told, there's a lot of nonsense we have to teach a PPL
student because the curriculum can't keep pace. Case in point, the
single largest number of questions in the PPL written question bank
concern... ADF and NDB, obsolete navigation technology that's on
the fast track to being an artificial reef somewhere).
The money is actually less of a barrier than the time is. And
young people these days are exceptionally resistant to learning
stuff that they know is useless, and that they're learning just
"because." A Sport Pilot candidate can learn what he needs to fly
safely in very short order. If you fly Day VFR in Class G airspace
you are never going to see a Constant Pressure Chart or need to
know how to track a VOR. You can learn that stuff if you LIKE, but
you no longer NEED to, just in order to undertake pure pleasure
It's clear that many of the complaints we had at first about
SP/LSA came from people who were already certified pilots and who
were seeking an alternative means to fly -- many of them older and
de-medicalized. What we're hearing from the younger folk who are
the intended target of SP/LSA is different.
To the extent that things are price-sensitive, the vendors are
responding with simpler, cheaper airplanes. As we frequently have
said, we heard "$65,000" this year the most, when we were hearing
"$85,000," last year. The $85k planes are still there, but they've
been joined by downmarket siblings. The cheapest way up at the
show, apart from entry-level PPCs, was a $25k (asked) Corben Baby
Ace. That's a very affordable machine, from where we sit. There
were a number of new kits and even fully-constructed aircraft in
the $45k neighborhood, as well.
And there were a whole lot of planes that appeal not just to the
novice, but ought to be catching the eye of the experienced pilot.
Indeed, so many planes are getting SLSA certification that WE can't
keep up, and we get their press released directly, usually. More
variety, more choice, more performance, less money. What's not to
like? That must be why we kept bumping into line pilots who were
enjoying a busman's holiday at the show.
Planes, trikes, PPCs, gyroplanes, hey, if it gets air between
you and the ground, it's all good. It's a very exciting time to be
an aviator; it's going to be twelve very intense months before the
same cast assembles in Sebring next year. Maybe we'll finally have
a light-sport airship by then (the one category and class not yet