By BILL WILSON
The competition among Florida’s airports to capture the high end of the general aviation fleet is intense, and now it has spread to sport aviation.
DeLand Municipal Airport, tucked into the state’s interior just 20 miles west of Daytona, is vastly expanding its previous role as a champion of recreational aviation into a heavily invested, full-fledged advocate of sport aviation.
DeLand just concluded its first Sport Aviation Showcase, Nov. 3-5, 2016, which turned out to be an impressive inaugural event.
Nearly 100 exhibitors were spread out over two outdoor phalanxes circling around to a tented inside display area.
Many visitors noted its similarity to the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida, held in January, and that is no coincidence. DeLand enticed Jana Filip, who ran the Sebring show, to its effort last February.
Notably, her departure followed a severe weather warning that forced closure of the 2016 Sebring Expo for a time. The event has been plagued by uncooperative weather in past years.
Filip brought with her to DeLand the best practices of her five years of experience and that was obvious in the showcase’s layout. Attendees could walk a logical path around the exhibits, refreshment area, demo flight ramp and even grab a few minutes rest at the show center tent enroute. It was possible to take in the entire show in around two hours, then return to points of interest.
DeLand Municipal Airport began life as a Navy training field in World War II and therefore has plenty of acreage. The current airport operation uses only two of the three main runway areas, allowing the showcase to occupy portions of the closed north-south runway.
Filip says that’s where the showcase will stay, even though major construction on a Sport Aviation Village will happen across the field, and is scheduled to begin before the end of the year.
Phase One of the project will include six 5,000-square-foot commercial hangars and 21 T-hangars, helping to alleviate the perennial need for hangar space in central Florida.
Three additional phases are planned that will result in more hangars, and, significantly for experimental aircraft builders, a “centralized facility for specialized equipment used by homebuilder activities that involve hazardous materials, such as welding, torch cutting, soldering, painting and fuel transfers,” according to airport officials.
The Experimental Aircraft Association was happy to hear about DeLand’s “fun flying” commitment and sent EAA Head of Chapters and Homebuilder Community head Charlie Becker to keynote the event.
DeLand’s civic leadership appears dedicated to the promotion of sport aviation. In just the last few years it has attracted Aero Adventures, manufacturers of the Aventura amphibian line, and U-FLY-IT, makers of the Aero Lite ultralight, to the airport.
Also there is Aeroprakt America, distributors for the Ukrainian A22 Valor (Foxbat in Europe and Australia.)
Skydive DeLand has shared the airport with general aviation for 30 years and is constantly busy.
Good relations have marked the commercial ventures at the DeLand Airport, and, as a result, the skydive operation was careful to restrict jumping activities to experienced parachutists who agreed to stay within a targeted area during the run of the show.
DeLand’s Showcase enters the sport aviation show competition alongside the previously mentioned Sebring Expo, and the Midwest LSA Expo held at the Mt. Vernon, Illinois, airport in early September, and of course, the grandaddy of Florida shows, SUN ‘n FUN in April.
This, plus other events like AirVenture, Copperstate and Arlington, plus commercially sponsored shows, is beginning to pull on some core exhibitors, including Phil Lockwood of Lockwood Aviation in Sebring, Florida. Standing beside his twin-engine Rotax-powered Aircam, Lockwood was reflective about how many shows would be reasonable for him to exhibit. About the new DeLand showcase he said, “We’ll see.”
Attendance and sales drive most decisions for manufacturers to exhibit, but sometimes there is a lag between discussions on the show line and an actual sale.
Harrison Smith, who manned the sales tent for Just Aircraft and acted as SuperSTOL demo pilot for an amazing near hover in the brisk wind of DeLand said, “It’s not unusual for somebody to pull the trigger on one of our planes six months from the time we talk to them at a show.”
Aiding DeLand’s cause were two exhibitors who reported sales on the first day of the show.
Filip’s answer to the proliferation of aviation shows is that “each show will find its own audience.”
She noted DeLand picked a fall date because “the Florida weather is usually so nice and pleasant at the end of the hot season and before the holidays.”
She also announced next year’s dates — Nov. 2-4 — before this year’s event ended.