...AOPA Expo 2004 -- What A Show

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AOPA Expo wrapped up in Long Beach, Calif., Saturday night, having hosted more than 11,000 visitors, 73 aircraft on static display, 535 exhibitors and 75 seminars. Among some of the news announced at the show: Garmin International said its Garmin GNS 480 is now WAAS certified to fly the FAA's new GPS-based approaches that provide precise lateral and vertical approach guidance -- similar to Instrument Landing System operations -- without the need for ground-based navaids of any kind. Cessna announced it will include airbags as standard equipment on its 2005 single-engine models. Epic Aircraft said it will produce a new six-place carbon-fiber twinjet. Why not? Everybody else is ... Only Epic did manage to turn out its turbine single, on which the jet is based, within a year of announcing the aircraft.

The crowd heard from FAA head Marion Blakey -- live via satellite -- and David Stone, chief of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Both engaged in sometimes thorny Q&A with the crowd. Stone bristled when one questioner accused his agency of "arrogance," and another referred to him as "the head Keystone cop." Despite the tension, he did say he would come back again next year. Stone answered several times that he was unaware of issues such as the impact on pilots of restricted access to ATC facilities and would try to learn more about GA concerns. Blakey encouraged pilots to use WAAS approaches or risk a loss of funding for the program, and also provided an update on the privatization of flight service stations.

Next year, AOPA Expo comes east to Tampa, Fla., November 3 through 5.