SEBRING — At 6 feet, 1 inch tall, Bob Ownsby finds few sports planes made to fit his height, he said Friday.
Ownsby was one of many attending the Sebring Sport Aviation Expo who were interested potentially in buying a sport aircraft or a kit to make one.
“Being comfortable when you’re flying is an important factor, one of the most important factors,” he said.
Ownsby traveled from Charlotte, N.C., to Sebring because the expo is considered a premier event for sports aviation enthusiasts. Each year thousands of people attend the event.
He said he’s built two aircraft before and decided it “was time to move onto something faster.”
Sports aircraft have become popular since the Federal Aviation Administration began licensing such aircraft in 2004, said Charlie Becker, who is director of membership programs with the Experimental Aviation Authority, based in Wisconsin.
One major reason why people like the aircraft is that they only have to show they have a driver’s license to be licensed as pilots, he said.
Pilots in other situations face timely and costly physicals to show they are healthy enough to fly, he said.
“It’s another way to continue flying,” said Bob Santom of Port St. Lucie. He said as he gets older he’s concerned whether he could pass the physical required for pilots of other aircraft.
Cost is another factor.
The aircraft can cost as much as $150,000 or more, but someone can buy a kit and other equipment for half that much to build one themselves, Becker said.
The FAA inspects the airplanes before they are approved for flight, he said.
That the FAA licensing came not long before the economy went down hill has affected the industry, he said. “It’s been hard on these companies.”
Amy Pruitt, who was on hand selling sport aircraft for Bristell, agreed the costs of such airplanes make it a challenge since most people don’t absolutely need an airplane.
“Its still a toy,” she said.
But to Andrew Mauzy, who traveled from St. Augustine with the goal of buying such a plane, it’s more than just a toy.
As a flight instructor, he said, buying a new plane is worth the cost. He said it seems that most of his competitors use older airplanes to teach student pilots.
“... You feel like you’re flying a piece of junk,” he said.
Mauzy said he believes he can buy a new airplane and provide training for a lower cost, he said. And the students will enjoy flying a newer plane, he said.
Some people go to the expo every year.
Bob Moorman, who has residences in Hialeah and Okeechobee, and recently bought a mobile home in Highlands County, said he and friends go every year. Sometimes they fly in, but this year they drove, he said.
While not interested in buying an airplane, Moorman said, he likes seeing the newest sports aircraft, as well as changes in technology.
It also has a social aspect of it, he said. “You meet friends,” he said, adding that in some cases he may not have seen the person since the last expo.