“It’s a wrap” as the iconic LSA 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 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. 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? “[We] 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.”
LSA and Sport Pilot kit-oriented enterprises based at Sebring include Lockwood Supply and Lockwood Aircraft, 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.
Another One Bites the Dust
Perhaps the Sebring cancellation is a sign of the times. Another, even better-known series, is also calling it quits. Plane & Pilot magazine’s online outlet reported, “For 16 years now, since its inception in 2003, the Red Bull Air Races have given the aviation world the kind of star power that other motor sports are all about. But the expensive and logistically difficult-to-produce events haven’t created household names, as is the case with other motor sports, though the company didn’t cite that as a cause for its decision.”
“The news came as a shock,” Plane & Pilot continued, “with the company suddenly announcing on Wednesday, May 29 that 2019 will be its last year. Three races remain for this year’s series, with events in Russia, Hungary and Japan. In all, the series has included more than 90 races.”
So, with some sadness, we conclude our reporting from Sebring with many articles and videos earlier this year. More videos are still in development and people will be telling stories about Sebring for years to come.
Thanks for the memories, Mike Willingham, Bev Glarner, Janice Rearick, Jana Filip, and Bob Woods (leaders of Sebring Expo over the years). You gave it your all and it was good. Blue skies!
For those that want to reminisce, here’s a link to our many stories from Sebring over the years.
Thomas Dickerson says
I keep looking for Part 103 legal ultralight aircraft and gyrocopters. I cannot find the site that lists the expo or fly-in for 2019 or 2020; I would’ve like to Mount Vernon expo.
Dan Johnson says
Hi Thomas: You can find those things at shows like the Mt. Vernon Midwest LSA Expo; just click the link. You can always find airshows that cater to your interests in our left column — just scroll down a bit. MWLSA is one of my favorites but you’ll have to wait until September 1-11-12, 2020. Or… you can attend the DeLand Showcase in about one month: November 14-15-16, 2019. Both are great events. I hope you can join us at one or both.
Hollis Babb says
Thomas, As Dan mentioned below, please come see The DeLand Showcase. I think you will find everything you are looking for & more.
Herb Hutchison says
I just learned from Morris Smith of the Sebring decision announced last month. Having attended four consecutive years, I missed this year due to other demands.
The Sebring Expo, as we all know, was unsurpassed for those of of us interested in LSA and ELSA. SEF, in my opinion, was a near perfect venue with its accessibility for those flying in commercial to Orlando and other locations.
Thanks to all of the organizers, volunteers and vendors who were dedicated to the project for so many years. Best wishes to all.
John Hurst says
We have exhibited at all 15 Sebring Expos. Of all the shows we attended, the Expo was always one of the most, if not the most productive. The Expo did a great job attracting people who were interested in, or who already own and fly light sport aircraft. While some shows are good at marketing, the Expo was the best sales event of the year. Hopefully the DeLand Showcase with a similar format will be able to pick up where the Expo left off.
Gary Evans says
I’m really sad to hear the Sebring is discontinuing its yearly event. I attended for the first time this year, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland might be bigger, but I didn’t like that one at all. It felt too commercial.
I didn’t understand your comment: “Perhaps the Sebring cancellation is a sign of the times.” Would you mind explaining more about that, please.
Also, has there been any more rumors of the LSA Weight limit?
Thanks for a great publication!
Dan Johnson says
Yeah, it was a sad news thing, the sort I usually avoid. As to the “sign of the times comment” …that was a reference to the follow-on part of the article about Red Bull cancelling their Air Races, another bummer.
In my many years in this business, I have tried just about every activity one can — except, running an airshow. These events determine my calendar for the year and are very important to me (and my video partner) as we seek fresh material for use on this website and on video channels. Operating one of these shows is one of the most difficult endeavors in aviation and probably other fields. Many formerly big shows in other industries have also disappeared due to the explosion of online resources and other reasons. However, airshows — more correctly, aviation trade shows — have continued to thrive because they work for both vendor and customer. However, all sorts of things conspire to make running a show challenging. When one has the energy that Sebring exhibited, it a crying shame to see organizers call it quits.
As to your inquiry about LSA regulation changes, they continue to crawl their way through the agency. I expect nothing in 2019 and perhaps nothing in 2020. The rule changes being contemplated are sweeping, touching on many other parts of the FARs. Staff working on this have to get buy-in from many others inside the agency (the legal department, for example) and it will take time to get this right before putting it out for public comment. Please be patient but please also know LAMA will not take its eye off the goal.
Finally, on a brighter note, THANKS so much for you kind words about my work. They are much appreciated!
Jim Lasch says
I usually enjoy reading the pages here, but this time, not so much. It really sucks to see an event like Sebring bite the dust. Ah well, c’est le guerre, I guess.
Dan Johnson says
Hi Jim: Yeah, I’m normally a “good news” reporter, writing about new or improved aircraft that pilots love. I stay away from bankruptcies, crashes, and such news except as it relates to helping steer people away from dead brands.
However, the Sebring shutdown news was too compelling …plus I though other media would report this and lacked my unique perspective of having attended every Sebring. (I was right about that; some of the reports were painfully brief or tried to lay this news at the foot of Light-Sport Aircraft.) Ah, well …sigh!
Keith Feickert says
As an organizer for the 35th West Coast Cub Fly-in, events like these tend to die with its leadership. It sounds like a bad case of Founders Syndrome. The baton should always be passed to the next generation and a secession plan should be in place before an event implodes. There are usually so many outstanding volunteers and those who want to be involved, it’s up to the organizing community to allow newcomers and give up some of that control. I really hope Sebring calling it quits wasn’t because of people not wanting to pass the legacy on to keep the event alive. And if your event costs too much to put on, then scale things back. There is nothing wrong with an austerity year to reevaluate and improve going forward with a balanced budget. It sure beats the alternative of a permanently canceled event.
Keith Martin says
I am actually quite comfortable with the decision to shut down the Sport Aviation Expo. Over the past several years, it became obvious that the event planners there were not quite up to the task of hosting anything more than a show with a local draw. Too many times, I took time off from work and spent $1000 fly there and attend the show only to have them close it for some small reason. This might be ok for someone who drove in from 20 miles away, but is totally unacceptable for any major show.
Hollis Babb says
I first attended the Sebring show looking for an airplane, but I quickly starting volunteering & later headed up the field crew that was responsible for anything in signage, fencing and aircraft tie downs.
All the best to everyone that was involved.
Dan Johnson says
Hi Hollis: Thanks for your comment but a huge T-H-A-N-K-S-!! for being one of those absolutely-essential volunteers.
Thanks Dan. It was a team effort!