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AOPA Summit Concludes Successful Debut

By Dave Higdon, for EAA.org

November 9, 2009 — The inaugural AOPA Aviation Summit closed out its run Saturday, November 7, with energy equal to the beginning, several hundred airplanes parked in the transient areas, and a host of vendors expressing their satisfaction at the level of business they did. Purveyors of everything from avionics to books on using them, from aircraft to tools for owning them, observed that crowds seemed noticeably lower than in recent years. AOPA stressed the record number of aircraft on display at Peter O’Knight Airport’s AirportFest static display and the strong turnout of fly-in attendees the second and third days of the three-day convention.

The light-sport aircraft on display attracted considerable interest, particularly Cessna Aircraft’s new 162 Skycatcher, the Remos GX, and the Brazilian-made Paradise. While official figures remained pending as of this writing, casual observations were deemed on-point with attendance visibly down. The new elements accompanying the new “Summit” theme did provide a sense of change which caught the attention of the on-site audience, while also aimed more at the off-site population among the 415,000 AOPA members.

The opening-day One Voice panel Thursday morning drew a near-capacity crowd, as did other general sessions. Many of the more-popular workshops, however, lacked the overflow crowds seen in recent years. One Voice featured the leaders of all the top aviation interest groups, from AEA to WIA, NBAA to NATA, GAMA to EAA, and, of course, AOPA in the person of moderator Craig Fuller, the pilot group’s first-year president. One outcome of AOPA’s ongoing unity drive came as a new teaming between Women in Aviation International and AOPA. The Women’s Wing for the Aviation Summit Friday afternoon provided a venue to recognize today’s female leaders in aviation and aviation business, as well as a platform to encourage more women to consider aviation careers.

“We offered seminars and mini-forums about careers, about following your passion, and exploring why would a person want to learn to fly,” said Amy Laboda, editor in chief of WAI's Aviation for Women magazine.

Another debut for AOPA Summit came from the first appearance of the Recreational Aviation Foundation, a group formed to protect access to backcountry airstrips on America’s vast public lands. The organization can already boast of a few successes for its efforts, including an agreement to maintain three public-access landing strips in Death Valley that faced closure by the National Park Service, as well as the construction of a new public back-country runway on national forest land in Montana. The group offers more information on its efforts and how to get involved at www.recreationalfoundation.org.

Opponents of the FAA’s drive to discourage through-the-fence operations in the agency’s new airport operations manual generated its own heat at Summit with the launch of another new advocacy group, ThroughTheFence.Org. The FAA wants to end such private access “through the fence” to public airports receiving federal Airport Improvement Program funds. The group’s spokesman, Dr. Brent Blue, called the policy “mindless” and “wrongly considered” and he noted the existence of such public-private partnerships at many airports has served to benefit the facilities.

‘Center Stage’ Allows Virtual Attendees

AOPA’s live-video production area, dubbed Center Stage, offered a series of interviews with aviation company executives, government aviation officials, airshow performers, and other aviation notables, often to a strong on-site audience while being streamed live to the world via the Internet. A drop in exhibitors also seemed evident from the smaller footprint required to accommodate their booth displays – even after a large chunk of the floor space was taken up by major players Cessna Aircraft, Cirrus, Garmin, Honeywell, and Remos. Interestingly, Cessna mounted a substantial exhibit at the Tampa Convention Center after attending the NBAA convention with no exhibit-hall presence and a company spokesman noted that the company had done good business at the show. The sense of the final day existing solely as a “vendor bonding day” seemed absent thanks to the level of foot traffic in the exhibit hall.

The aircraft parked at both Tampa Executive and Peter O’Knight supported the impression that hundreds of pilots took advantage of the excellent weather and the warm-climate venue to partake of Summit. Early afternoon on Day Two the number of aircraft that had flown in was already at about 600 – and arrivals continued steadily until Friday evening and well into Saturday.

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