Just flew in from the last official show of the year, AOPA’s Expo, held in San Jose, California, in early November. (And, no, my arms aren’t tired.) The last time I attended AOPA’s gathering at this venue, I was a staffer with the association’s magazine and, so the popular opinion went, eschewed reason by flying my then-new Pulsar up from Long Beach. Oh, how times have changed.
As with AirVenture this year, the turnout was far better than expected given the recent economic turmoil. I find it interesting that the talk had been about what the industry would do after the election. Then when not much changed, it turned to watching the stock market for a reaction. Now its a case of hunkering down until after the holidays.
Nevertheless, the vibe of the show was more upbeat than I expected, particularly as general aviation as a whole can be said to be hurting. Its generally felt that the Experimental/Amateur-Built part of the industry will continue apace because its participants are more emotionally connected to their aircraft assets than, say, a Cirrus SR22 owner. I believe the theory because we have the opportunity to build and fly for less; sometimes it’s not the buy-in that wears you down but the staggering costs of upkeep. And just as it seemed my own airport was turning into a ghost town, the price of crude oil dropped and avgas prices, more slowly, came off the redline. It may be a temporary respite, but it’s a welcome one.
Another part of the economic discussion centered on what impact the proposed changes to amateur-built rules would have. In fact, I gave an hourlong talk at AOPA that was intended, when it was planned last February, to discuss the new rules and how they applied to builders and wanna-bes. Well, the FAA not only hasn’t finalized the rules, it reopened the comment period in October for the changes to the Advisory Circulars. And, I’m told, it is planning to reconvene the Aviation Rulemaking Committee to take another swipe at the changes.
I consider this good news. First, the FAA has elected not to ram through what I believe are poorly conceived and written changes. Second, the delay shows there’s no pressing politics to get this done before the new administration. My guess is that the issue will take a lower profile and that we might not have a new set of rules until after AirVenture 2009.
Along those lines, Glasair Aviation announced at the show that it had been through a weeklong inspection by some of the FAAs AIR-200 employees who were behind the proposed rule changes. The upshot was that the company’s Two Weeks To Taxi program was found not to be in violation of the spirit or intent of the rules calling for a builder to complete the major portion of a kitbuilt aircraft. The company is careful to point out that this does not constitute an endorsement by the FAA, but that the agency’s representatives found that modern manufacturing techniques helped reduce build time but still leave the major portion for the builder to do. The Glasair Aviation static display at AOPA, with Tom Wathen’s beautiful red Sportsman on amphibious floats towering overhead, was busy. And every time I walked by the Velocity display, there were plenty of sunglass-and-baseball-hat types milling around. There were a bunch of other, kinda ugly airplanes on the ramp too, from manufacturers I’m not real familiar with, like Beech and Cessna…
Among the handful of Experimental-class exhibitors at AOPA was Ameritech, showing a new ground-adjustable prop for engines up to 125 hp (Rotax 912, Jabiru, Continental O-200, Lycoming O-235, etc.) It competes directly with the recently developed Sensenich two-blader but is said to be less expensive and faster. Well have a full report soon.
Marc Cook has been in aviation journalism for 20 years and in magazine work for more than 25. He is a 4000-hour instrument-rated, multi-engine pilot with experience in nearly 150 types. Hes completed two kit aircraft, an Aero Designs Pulsar XP and a Glastar Sportsman 2+2.