Aviation World’s Fair is one step closer to reality

 - November 14, 2007, 9:29 AM

The state of Virginia officially broke ground at the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (PHF) in late August for an Aviation World’s Fair being planned for early spring 2003. Although the concrete taxiways and ramps being laid on the 180-acre site will initially be used to launch and display aircraft during the three-week fair April 7 to 27, 2003, local and state officials eventually want to develop it into an aviation business park after the event concludes.

The Aviation World’s Fair is a public-private partnership of the state, city of Newport News, Peninsula Airport Commission and Aviation World’s Fair Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of New Jersey-based Kallman Worldwide.

Tom Kallman, who is president and CEO of both organizations, began planning in 1996 what he envisioned as a world’s fair of aviation to mark the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903. Since then he has been promoting the concept at U.S. pavilions organized and operated by his firm at international airshows.

According to Kallman, the fair will combine “museum-like” thematic halls, with aerospace industry exhibits, static-display aircraft and flying demonstrations. Among the aircraft will be a full-scale flying replica of the Wright Flyer, hot-air balloons and modern commercial and military airplanes.

Proponents of the Aviation World’s Fair, including Virginia governor James Gilmore and both of the state’s U.S. senators, note that PHF is ideally located between Capitol Hill and Kill Devil Hill, N.C. Virginia is said to be considering partnering with North Carolina to run two-hour bus shuttles to Kitty Hawk. The airport has two intersecting runways, the longest of which is 8,003 ft, as well as scheduled air service. It was selected from more than 20 possible venues in the U.S.

Several speakers noted that Newport News, nearby Norfolk and the rest of the Tidewater area of the Virginia capes represent a hotbed of aviation activity and history, including the NASA facility at Langley Air Force Base.

But Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) cautioned the several hundred people at the groundbreaking, which also included “preview” flybys from several nearby military installations, that “one brick is missing” in the fair’s foundation.

“Old Uncle Sam up in Washington has yet to take that step, which in my judgment is essential to the success of this program,” the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said. “Namely, recognition from the President on down through the several Cabinet agencies and departments–most particularly the departments of commerce and defense–that this should be the site for the world’s fair.”

Warner said that the state’s congressional delegation will take on the task to see that “the proper recognition” from President Bush on down “literally consecrates this ground” as the place for the fair “to flourish and succeed,” and he vowed that “we are going to make it work.”

The Aviation World’s Fair will feature exhibit halls dedicated to commercial, military and general aviation, vertical flight and space. Kallman said the one-time event close to the eastern U.S. population centers could attract a million visitors over its 21-day run, exceeding the more than 750,000 who journey to the annual Experimental Aircraft Association meeting in Oshkosh, Wis.

Following a media preview day on April 6, 2003, the fair will operate as a trade show limited to professional visitors from April 7 to 11. Later there will be “international days” devoted to business aviation, and several emphasizing army, air force and naval aviation, space and women in aviation.

Specialized displays will feature airlines of the world, aircraft mechanics, aviation academies, experimental aircraft, sport aviation and interactive exhibits. Several days are listed for education programs, which will include lecture series, student competitions, international exchanges and scholarship awards.

The state of Virginia and the federal government, through the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program, have committed about $35 million to prepare the airport for the fair and the infrastructure that will become what Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) described as “the air commerce center that will be left behind.”

Kallman told the gathering that “the world is waiting to join us in this celebration,” and in fact there were several foreign dignitaries at the groundbreaking. “Today validates everything this fair has stood for since its inception in 1996,” he declared.