Non-AOPA Summit

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It being general aviation and all, lots of businesses have learned to survive if not thrive on crumbs and scraps. It now looks like one company seems to be betting that AOPA left a bit of a feast on the table last summer when it summarily cancelled its annual fall exposition, lately called Summit. An exposition company called Lift Event Management is taking up where AOPA left off and trying to launch a show next fall in Palm Springs. They’re even calling it…you guessed it, Aviation Summit.

In a professionally prepared prospectus making the rounds this week, Lift Management proposes a three-day show from October 17 to 19. I’m not sure how this will be received, but right out of the blocks, there’s a problem: The NBAA Convention runs from October 21 to the 23, making the two shows back to back. Lift told AVweb’s Tom Bliss that the date may have to be adjusted but even so, for many companies, the time for planning to attend will just be too short. This has been a perennial problem in October for many companies, including us.  Even a small presence at such shows costs $10,000 to $15,000 and for some vendors, a lot more than that. Just as costly is the disruption to normal business for companies that aren’t fat with staff. Five days out of the office takes another five to catch up.

But do we even need another fall show in a season that already has five major expositions, plus several minor ones? When I posed this question to some of the companies at last years final AOPA Summit in Fort Worth, I got mixed reactions. Some were wondering how they would replace the marketing exposure Summit gave them, others were happy for a more restful fall. I shopped Lift’s idea among a few companies yesterday and again got mixed reviews. Aircraft Spruce, which is right in the Palm Springs neighborhood, said they would probably attend it. But halfway across the country, Houston-based ForeFlight said probably not. I think Lift will have a marketing challenge in selling enough exhibition space to turn a profit. They should have started last fall. On the plus side, Palm Springs was always a good draw for AOPA's shows.

I can’t decide whether templating AOPA’s version of Summit—right down to the parade of planes—is a clever bit of marketing coat tailing or just a half-hearted lack of creativity. But it is confusing. One company I e-mailed thought AOPA had reconsidered and was re-instituting Summit. I’m not sure people like that sleight of hand. It’s a weird way to build a new brand. And besides, I always thought Summit was a terrible name. Expo was simply a better choice, succinctly describing what the thing is all about. A summit is either a mountaintop or a high-level diplomatic deliberation.

Still, there may be room for such an expo, whatever you call it. Last fall, I covered a new show in the motorcycle industry called simply AIM Expo. It too was breaking into a well-served market and was superbly executed. The vendors raved about it. Compared to the motor sports industry, GA is rather more anemic, but that doesn’t mean a critical mass of vendors can’t come together to yield a show that’s attractive to consumers. There may very well be a need for it and I think we would all like it to succeed if there is. But it may take a little more planning than Lift has done to pull it off.

We’ll see, I suppose.

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Comments (14)

Paul, I am sure this event will be received by all here in Palm Springs with glee. When AOPA cancelled there were many disappointed businesses and individuals like me. The Parade of Planes is always a good attraction extracting young and old away from their iPads. By the way, the schedule is now for October 16-19, 2014.

"The Lift team will host the Aviation Summit, an aviation-focused trade show, on October 16-19th at the Palm Springs Convention Center. Aviation Summit will include hundreds of exhibitors from the corporate and general aviation, aircraft and helicopter industry along with a wide variety of related vendors. The Aviation Summit will include a diverse aircraft and helicopter exhibit at the convention center and the Palm Springs International Airport. The event will launch with a parade of arriving aircraft through the streets of Palm Springs."

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | February 27, 2014 9:42 PM    Report this comment

The Aviation Summit is going to have be a forced success and in a hurry. I suppose the organizers strategy includes that there is more than one way to skin a cat - creative minds can turn the Aviation Summit at Palm Springs from good to great. No politics, no disgruntled members - just product. Maybe.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | February 28, 2014 6:15 AM    Report this comment

I have been attending Expo/Summit since 2008, and of the ones I attended, I still feel the Palm Springs one a few years ago was the best one I attended. I can still remember the entire five days I spent there (the three Summit days, plus the day on either side for travel), and would definitely have attended it again this year.

However, this attempt is "too little, too late" for me, as I already have other plans for travel this year after learning the Fort Worth summit was to be the last (at least for the foreseeable future). I don't know how the new AOPA Fly-Ins will compare, but I do plan on attending the two that are within GA flying distance of my home airport, so only time will tell. Perhaps if I feel there's a void to be filled, I might attend next year's "Aviation Summit" (if they run it again), but who knows.

Perhaps the end of AOPA's Summit is hard for some to let go of for the same reason many of us don't want to believe GA is shrinking, and that it all simply requires different thinking to survive and thrive (as much as is possible). Then again, Rafael's comment about "No politics, no disgruntled members" could have merit as well.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | February 28, 2014 8:12 AM    Report this comment

I remember when the same thing was said about Sun N Fun. You see how that turned out!

Posted by: A Richie | February 28, 2014 8:15 AM    Report this comment

Always loved the PSP event - if this unfolds I'll surely attend.

Posted by: Gerry Coon | February 28, 2014 10:36 AM    Report this comment

Always loved the PSP event - if this unfolds I'll surely attend.

Posted by: Gerry Coon | February 28, 2014 10:37 AM    Report this comment

During breakfast this morning your blog has caused quite a stir amongst my flying friends. It appears that businesses and individuals are in support - at least superficially as there were comments about the weak attendance during the 2012 AOPA summit or expo as I still prefer to call it.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | February 28, 2014 10:38 AM    Report this comment

I found the comment about the AIM motorcycle expo was well executed and had great comments from the vendors. Probably sold a lot of parts/services and made contacts that made it worthwhile for them.

I think the reality between why AOPA is no longer interested in this, and how it relates to the participation by the how did the vendors come out? If vendors are doing business at these summits, and they leave with a pocket full of money, then guess what, AOPA can sell the space and make it all work. Otherwise, in tough times, why spend the money to make the trek and not make enough to cover the expense.

AOPA may have more overhead costs than the Lift Management and time will tell if the event goes to the wayside or expands. I would suggest a different format, one that has more flight school participation, LSA manufacturers, and an EDUCATIONAL execution of the convention, as you can only hang around so long trying to feel good about things, when the reality is, SOMETHING NEEDS FIXING!

That is the bottom line.

Posted by: Michael Dempsey | February 28, 2014 11:21 AM    Report this comment

We have attended many AOPA conventions all across the country and enjoyed them all with the one in Palm Springs by far our favorite. We were ecstatic to hear of the possibility that one will be held in Palm Springs next Oct.! We will be there for sure!!


Posted by: Ruth Preston | February 28, 2014 11:45 AM    Report this comment

I really like this idea. We on the west coast do not have an Oskosh or Air Venture. We needed the once a year AOPA Summit (Expo), I attended just about every year. Loved to shop the vendors wares. The classes were very informative also. Looking forward to this new venture and hope it will become a yearly west coast event or even every other year.

Posted by: Les Wall | February 28, 2014 12:21 PM    Report this comment

I was very disappointed when I heard that AOPA was canceling it's summits. Where else could you see all the manufactures and vendors in one place, well maybe Oshkosh. Does anyone really think that all of the manufactures and vendors are going to show up to those little regional meetings AOPA has planned.

If this Aviation Summit comes to pass I definitely go.


Posted by: Dale Martin | February 28, 2014 2:20 PM    Report this comment

What did they say about Sun n Fun?

Posted by: Joshua Waters | February 28, 2014 3:02 PM    Report this comment

The Aviation Summit at PSP news release opened up speculation on its theme and success. Most local and regional pilots and businesses are in favor. Many willing to volunteer. I am one of many willing to assist but I also recognize that much needs to be detailed and organized - it is an event that needs the cooperation of the GA community and local governent, commerce and the FAA. No need to reinvent the wheel here, meaning that following the previously used formats is good enough, but time is a significant factor. The theme of the Aviation Summit will hopefully center on product marketing and educational topics with a strong motivational GA effort. It is a good event for all. Let's roll!

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 1, 2014 12:35 PM    Report this comment

Joshua, when Sun N Fun first started up there was a lot of talk about it being redundant, unnecessary, or even a distraction from Oshkosh. But quite the opposite happened. I say if there is room in the market, more power to 'em!

Posted by: A Richie | March 3, 2014 11:13 AM    Report this comment

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