AOPA Ditches Summit: The Right Move at the Right Time

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AOPAs surprise announcement that its abandoning the annual fall Summit show came as quite a surprise, although anyone whos been paying attention could have seen it coming eventually. From my point of view, its a welcome development and newly installed AOPA president Mark Baker deserves some props for making a decisive move barely days into his tenure.

So whats the matter with Summit? Perhaps nothing, other than context. Given the size of the aviation universe and the fact that its in decline means that there are simply too many shows for vendors and attendees to keep up with or perhaps the frequency is just excessive. AOPAs show never benefitted much from being renamed from Expo to Summit and its attendance has struggled, depending on the venue. A couple of years ago, during a dreary, rainy day in Hartford, I recall spending a solid hour in the press room by myself. Not a soul came or went. The exhibit floor was similarly sparsely attended.

I dont know whether Expo/Summit is a cost center or a profit center, but I suspect at a dismal show like Hartford, its more likely the former. More important, Ive always felt the show is marginal for both attendees and some vendors, whove already ground through a long, expensive show season starting at Sebring and culminating in AirVenture, not to mention a handful of smaller regional shows. Vendors Ive spoken to in the past have been split; some find Summit a show worth the expense, others not so much. Late in the year and heading into winter, not many companies used Summit as a marketing springboard in the way that they use Sun n Fun or AirVenture.

In cancelling it, perhaps AOPA is signaling that Summit is just an expensive distraction. Its press release on Tuesday said it will divert resources to grass roots events. Now grass roots is a much hackneyed description and Ill confess I dont even know what it means. But if it means a focus on more frequent, smaller shows, promotions and events and a clear emphasis on affordable flying for what passes as the masses-as suggested in the press release-thats the right direction indeed. And if the market shifts, the association can always bring the show back or revert to a biannual format.

But the most telling message in Bakers decision may be this: Dont count on business as usual. And that could be a good thing.

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