Last year Sherry Nesbitt Gettinger attended AOPA Expo as a newly minted pilot, garnering the event’s “Newest Pilot Award.” With the ink still wet on her ticket, she had every intention of buying a Cessna 182.
But what a difference a year makes. Now instrument rated, Gettinger, of Asheville, N.C., took delivery of a new Columbia 350 — the 500th aircraft produced by Columbia Aircraft — at this year’s Expo in Palm Springs, Calif.
“My husband and I came to AOPA Expo last year expecting to buy a 182,” said Gettinger. “Since I’d trained in a 172, a 182 seemed like a logical choice for our first aircraft. While we were there, however, we discovered Columbia Aircraft and things changed.”
Gettinger’s husband, Glen, persuaded her to visit Columbia’s exhibit and take a demo flight. Several demo flights later, she placed her order.
Celebrating the delivery of the 500th Columbia at Expo made sense, according to Randy Bolinger, the company’s vp of marketing and business development. In 1998, Columbia accepted the type certificate for its first aircraft, the Columbia 300, at AOPA Expo, also held in Palm Springs.
“Apparently AOPA Expo and Palm Springs hold good fortune for Columbia Aircraft,” he said.
The past year at Columbia has had its share of good fortune, as well as challenges, according to Columbia President and CEO Bing Lantis.
A good portion of the year, he noted, was spent getting the G1000-equipped Columbia through FAA certification.
“The Columbia is the highest performance aircraft that has the G1000 in it,” he said. “And we could only do the flying on VFR days and, as it would happen, Salem, Ore., where we were doing the testing, was having its worst and wettest winter in 30 years, so that delayed us a little bit.”
The aircraft was flown down to Phoenix for completion of certification testing.
The company encountered another setback June 11 when a thunderstorm rolled through, dropping golf-ball-sized hail on 66 planes that were sitting on the ramp outside Columbia’s factory in Bend, Ore.
“Some of the aircraft took 50 to 70 hits,” said Lantis. “The damage was strictly cosmetic, but the repair teams had to be creative because no Columbia had ever been damaged by hail before.”
Columbia Aircraft delivered 63 aircraft in the third quarter of 2006, putting its annual total to date to 130 — 16 more than the total number of aircraft delivered in 2005.
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