“It’s a wrap” as the iconic light-sport aircraft show called Sebring Expo (full name Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo) is shutting down after 15 years.
The show started the same year LSA arrived on the scene — barely a month after the FAA announced the new airplane and pilot certificate category — as the event was initially held in October before shifting to January to avoid hurricane season disruptions that affected the first year.
Sebring was hardly on the aviation map as the show began. A notable early success was attracting Phil Lockwood and his multiple enterprises, including Lockwood Aviation Supply, Lockwood Aviation Repair, Aero Technical Institute, and Lockwood Aircraft, the makers of the AirCam and Drifter aircraft.
Those who know Phil are aware he is a particularly careful and deliberate planner, so his selection of KSEF was significant and perhaps presaged the long and successful run of Sebring Expo.
Over the years, airport executive director Mike Willingham and those he retained to operate the event tried various tactics, including a night airshow, adding drone racing and exhibits to the mix, plus relocating the center of activity, finally ending up right in front of the new beautiful airport terminal Mike initiated during his equally long run as the man in charge.
The LSA community embraced Sebring enthusiastically as the new segment roared into the aviation space. Dozens of new aircraft producers and the many customers who loved them enjoyed having an event where LSA and Sport Pilot kit aircraft plus ultralights were the leading attraction.
A primary reason for the event’s success was the sector-specific nature of the show. Pilots could comb the field for the best choice for them and they could take multiple demonstration flights to zero in on the right aircraft for them.
The smaller nature of the event assured that prospective buyers could get plenty of face time with suppliers of their favorite LSA or kits and they could have long enough conversations with them to be sure before making a substantial investment in a new aircraft.
“Beginning as a small, local event, Expo has grown to become an international trade show with exhibitors, vendors, and visitors from all over the globe,” reported the airport authority in announcing the event shutdown. “Airport management, board and staff are extremely appreciative of the support shown by exhibitors, sponsors, volunteers, and participants.”
What will Sebring Regional Airport do to promote itself and aviation in the future?
“Sebring Regional Airport will continue to focus resources and energy toward the development of new programs in emerging aviation areas including manned, optionally manned, and unmanned systems. This focus will include aerial, terrestrial and marine platforms.”
One of the success stories for the Sebring airport is attracting tenants and increasing aviation activity at the airport. The authority assures those tenants and their customers, “Sebring Regional Airport will continue to vigorously support existing aviation-related tenants with a focus on growth and vibrancy of our region. Commitment to all segments of aviation has always been a cornerstone that will continue to be a core value.”
Besides Lockwood’s companies, LSA and Sport Pilot kit-oriented enterprises based at Sebring include Tecnam USA, Duc Propellers, Sebring Flight Academy run by the folks behind Bristell USA, and AB Flight, a representative for Evektor. Several other companies have also called Sebring home over the 15-year-run of the show.
For more information on the expo’s demise, including some theories on what went into the decision to close the show, read Part 2 of Dan’s coverage, “Why did they make this decision? Here’s some answers.”