Expo attracts people from wide path
Jay Meisel | Highlands TodaySEBRING Even though Bob Reinhart expected aviation changes during the 30 years since he owned an airplane, he was still surprised when he attended the ninth annual U.S. Sport Aviation Expo Thursday.
Published: January 18, 2013
Published: January 18, 2013
"What really surprised me was how many different manufacturers were represented," said Reinhart, who is from Iowa, but resides in Cape Coral during the winter.
However, that dozens of manufacturers had exhibits doesn't surprise Dan Johnson, president of the Light-sport Aircraft Manufacturers' Association.
One factor, he said, is that the expo in Sebring is the first during the year and is the largest for light-sport aircraft.
Another factor is that light-sports aircraft don't go through the cumbersome federal regulatory process that adds millions of dollars to the costs of development of other aircraft, he said. Instead, the aircraft must be certified to meet standards that have resulted in a good safety record.
With the reduced costs, many different companies have sprung up.
"They're not all going to make it in the marketplace, but they can be in the market place," he said.
Expo attendees will see "all kinds of brand names you never heard of, but there was a time when it came to cars, we didn't know anything but Ford, General Motors and Chrysler," he said.
It's only been during the last eight years that the industry developed, he said.
The general public will get the opportunity to tour three World War II-era aircraft from the Collings Foundation's Wings of Freedom Tour as well as the first flight shows in Highlands County in 20 years.
Jana Filip, director of the expo, said the sluggish economy hasn't hurt the event. They have the same number of exhibitors as last year, she said. Those exhibitors come from 32 states and eight other countries, including Italy, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain and Austria.
But at least in recognition of the economic challenges, at least two associations represented at the expo promote the idea of co-ownership of planes, she said.
The expo also attracts a lot of people who potentially want to buy aircraft, she said. One enticement is that expo visitors can test fly airplanes throughout the entire event.
Potential buyers come from many countries, as well as parts of the United States, Filip said.
Howie Soule, who is from Maine, said he has flown to the event for the past several years and was potentially interested in a couple of air planes being offered. He said he's owned a plane for more than 30 years. He became interested in being a pilot through his father being one.
Another visitor, Eddie Miller, who arrived from Fort Myers, said he was interested in seeing what was being offered.
Besides buyers and sellers of light-sport aircraft, there's also the goal of getting manufacturers to come to Highlands County, Filip said.
Jerry Cane, co-owner of Float Planes and Amphibs, said they've been building planes in Sebring for the past six years.
The one they had on display at the expo has the ability to land on water with the gear down and not turn over, he said.
"Even with the gear down, you'll still be around here to slap yourself upside the head for landing with the gear down," he said.
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