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AERO Closes with Increased Attendance

Optimism infectious

By Kent Misegades

April 6, 2009 — Crowds swelled over the weekend as the 17th AERO European general aviation trade show drew to a close on Sunday in Friedrichshafen, Germany.
At a luncheon for the aviation press on Friday, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) President Pete Bunce described the key challenges to aircraft manufacturers, citing saturation in the used airplane market, difficulties in credit markets, and public opinions turning against corporate aviation, fueled by political opportunists. On the positive side, he mentioned swift action on the part of GAMA and others to educate the public on the many benefits of aviation and Congressional action on special bonus depreciation of aircraft. Pertinent to attendees of AERO, Bunce praised the good progress being made in talks with EASA aimed towards greater compatibility in aircraft and pilot certification as well as aircraft maintenance on both sides of the Atlantic, key aspects of a new “bilateral safety agreement” nearing its final stages.

On environmental issues, Bunce recognized significant differences in public and political opinions between the U.S. and Europe, however he addressed measures GAMA members were taking in dealing with the realities of the more restrictive situation in Europe. The cap-and-trade policy planned for 2012 will result in a carbon tax for operators of aircraft. Bunce was adamant that these funds be used to improve the efficiency of aircraft and not be siphoned off to fund non-aviation programs. He predicted that planned modernization of air traffic control in the busy European airspace could result in a 15 percent reduction of fuel consumption and with it an equal reduction in emissions.

He stressed the importance of compatibility between countries, warning that aircraft operators might actually increase fuel consumption taking less direct routes to avoid higher taxation in certain countries. Bunce ended his overall upbeat talk with the excitement he sees at AERO 2009, which he described as “infectious.” New, simpler pilot certificates and aircraft certification in the U.S. and Europe means that essentially anyone who possesses a driver’s license and has basic computer skills can operate an airplane, making sport aviation more attractive to those who enjoy similar forms of recreation such as jet skis, motorbikes, etc.

Following Bunce, EAA President Tom Poberezny delivered a serious but positive talk focusing on the parallels he sees between Europe and the U.S. for those who fly for recreation. He announced news from Thomas Grunewald, director of AERO, that attendance figures for the first two days of the event were 14 percent higher than the previous AERO held in 2007, a remarkable increase.

Poberezny commented that as he walked through the halls he notes that aircraft are much different than those from five, 10, and 20 years ago, clear evidence that “... manufacturers are meeting the increasing expectations of their customers.” He then addressed the problem of dwindling pilot ranks and how this can be reversed: “The core of all aviation is recreational flying. We know from studies we’ve made that nearly all pilots, private or professional, became interested in aviation when someone offered them a ride. While we’ve we’ve provided 1.5 million kids their first flight through our Young Eagle program, as they reach adulthood many other activities and family responsibilities compete for their finances and their attention. We have to find ways to reduce the cost of obtaining a pilot’s certificate, owning an airplane, and getting the family involved,” Poberezy said.

He stressed the importance of growing the sport to provide a vibrant aviation industry capable of developing the new, innovative products and services to further improve the safety and fun of flying while lowering its costs.

On the question whether the youth today have as much interest in aviation as in years past, Poberezny is convinced that nothing has changed but the many activities that compete for the passion of the youth. He then described a meeting with attendees at last year’s EAA Air Academy, an aviation camp that takes place during the summer months in Oshkosh. “I asked for a show of hands who had written a letter recently. Not many hands went up. When I asked how many ‘text’ their friends regularly from their cell phones, nearly all hands went up. We need to engage youth on their turf,” he said, challenging members of the press present to use these latest technologies to promote aviation to the next generation of pilots.

As I continued to survey the vast halls of AERO on Friday, I found further evidence of European innovation. For instance I saw a hybrid gas/electric engine, an electric-powered canard motorglider, another motorglider that disassembles like a sailboat for easy transportation on the roof of a car, and visited with an Italian formation flying team of paraplegic pilots.

Friday ended with a reception at the EAA booth for the many friends of the association attending AERO this year. Among the many dignitaries present were Hal Shevers of Sporty’s and Klaus Wellmann, CEO of the Friedrichshafen “Messe” Trade Shows, who commented on the positive impact of the new relationship between AERO and the EAA already evident at the 2009 event.

Saturday dawned to mild, springtime weather and a constant stream of arriving traffic. In addition to the hundreds of displays inside and outside the halls of the Messe, visitors had a chance to view dozens of aircraft outside on static display. At one o’clock, a thundering low pass by a World War II B-25 owned by Red Bull of Austria kicked off the first weekend air show, to the excitement of crowds enjoying lunch in the expansive outdoor beer garden. Other visitors sought refuge from the warm mid-day sun in the vast expanse of the adjacent Zeppelin NT hangar, its normal occupant tethered a short distance away.

On Saturday, I got a closer look at the mid-engined ISATIS from France, “FLARM” ADS-B avionics, the Austro Engine Jet-A fueled powerplant, and the elegant Italian “Syncro” from FlySynthesis that debuted at AERO this year.

So many airplanes, so little time...look for a complete report on AERO in an upcoming issue of EAA Sport Aviation.

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