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Friday, 15 November 2013 19:08

U.S. Sport Aviation Expo Hits Sebring in January

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The 10th annual U.S. Sport Aviation Expo will take flight on January 16 to 19, 2014 at the Sebring Regional Airport (SEF) in Sebring, Florida. Focused on providing visitors with the opportunity to see, try, fly and buy anything related to experimental and light-sport aircraft, the Expo Team is looking forward to hosting some 160 exhibitors, who will be offering aircraft, avionics, tools, pilot supplies and more. The Expo welcomed more than 17,000 visitors from 32 states and 14 foreign countries to the event in 2013.

The concept for a national aviation expo at SEF originated in 2003 in a discussion between Mike Willingham, Executive Director of Sebring Airport Authority, and Robert “Bob” Wood, then a member of the Authority. The discussion surrounded the concept of creating an aviation activity to stimulate economic development at the airport, tourism in Highlands County, and to encourage interest in recreational aviation. A committee was formed to pursue the concept and included Willingham, Wood, Tina Gottus, Publisher of Highlands Today newspaper, Phil Lockwood, President of Lockwood Aviation, an avation tenant based at SEF, and Alon Fish, Executive Director (at that time) of the Greater Sebring Chamber of Commerce.

After discussions with officials of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and organizers of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, the Expo Committee elected to focus the event on the then newly emerging sport pilot certificate and light-sport aircraft industry. The first U.S. Sport Aviation Expo was held in October 2004. That timeframe was selected to boost tourism in the area at an otherwise slow time. Local civic clubs and organizations were engaged to provide a base of volunteers to assist with the setup and maintenance of the event, to organize parking, and provide food service.

That first Expo welcomed 100 exhibitors and recorded 650 aircraft demonstration flights, with more than 500 individual aircraft flying into the event. As a result of that Expo activity, several aviation businesses showed interest in relocating to SEF, with six aviation businesses sourced to establish offices on the airport. In 2005, Hurricane Charley forced the postponement of the Expo from October until January of 2006. After that event, Expo officials decided to permanently move the Expo to the month of January, making it the first major aviation event of the year.

Tom Peghiny, President of Flight Design USA, an elite sponsor for Expo in 2014 said, “Flight Design has become a sponsor of the Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo for several reasons. The show is very productive for finding qualified buyers. It is held during the part of the year when people are starting to make their purchase decisions, and the Expo has created a fresh image of sport aviation that our company wants to be associated with. The Expo is the right balance between a trade show for professionals and a fun show for the public.”

Over the years, the Expo has expanded its offerings to include educational forums, keynote speakers and a variety of concessionaires and entertainment activities. In 2014, the Expo will offer its first hands-on workshops and will extend a special welcome to builders of experimental amateur-built (homebuilt) aircraft, which will expand its programs to include more aspects of the sport aviation spectrum.

In 2013, exhibitors reported sales of 40-plus aircraft, while 136 members of the press from throughout the world reported on the event. The Expo has become known for new product rollouts, a multitude of pleasant surprises and never disappoints its visitors.

The Expo has also hosted gatherings of national aviation groups, including members of the Light-Sport Aircraft Manufacturing Association (LAMA) as well as meetings of the Light-Sport Aircraft Technical Committees for ASTM Int’l, the independent standard- setting organization managing the development of standards for design, performance, quality acceptance tests, and safety monitoring for light-sport aircraft. Dignitaries of various aviation organizations, including former AOPA President Craig Fuller, frequent the event to meet and greet their members.

Stay tuned as plans for the 10th anniversary event are confirmed over the next few months. Learn more about the 2014 U.S. Sport Aviation Expo at www.sport-aviation-expo.com, follow the event on Facebook (“like” U.S. Sport Aviation Expo) or on Twitter at #USAviationExpo.

Jana Filip, Director, jana@sebring-airport.com
Sebring Regional Airport is a 2,000-acre commerce park and airport, and home to Sebring International Raceway (recently announcing a merger with Grand-Am Road Racing, a Company of NASCAR) and the 12 Hours of Sebring race. Sebring has been named in the State Aviation System Plan as the growth airport for South Central Florida. Sebring Regional Airport & Commer

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