Is Sun 'n Fun, Like, Over?

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Forgive me for inserting the Valley Girlism, but I needed it for effect. We are contemplating the larger metaphysical question of whether this annual spring show is in decline, destined for that boneyard occupied by the Reading Airshow and the Bendix Cup Race.

I'm raising it here because in the river of e-mail that flows into my inbox every day, that one appeared in a header. The direct answer is, yes, it's over…for this year. But it'll be back next April, and I've already got it marked on my calendar. For me, this year's Sun 'n Fun was as busy as any I can remember—too many things to do, too few hours in the day.

But this has less to do with the state of the aviation economy and more to do with the life of the modern journalist, which has become the functional equivalent of running through a leaky fuel farm with your shorts on fire. Stop and smell the roses? What roses? There were roses? We don't even take notes on paper anymore. If it's not on an SD card, it didn't happen.

In those oh-so-brief moments when I paused long enough to have an actual conversation with a real human, the subject came up almost conspiratorially: Hey, isn't attendance down? Yes, it's down. We're in the middle of severe recession. Get over it. But it wasn't down so much to keep me from contemplating the statutory penalties attached to inserting my tripod into the nether regions of a patch-bedecked couple who had essentially taken up residence in the Lightspeed booth when all I wanted was a couple of minutes to ask a few questions. By the time they moved on, so had my focus on what I wished to ask.

So, yes, Sun 'n Fun took a hit from the economy and in a couple of months, AirVenture will probably be soft, too. What this means is exactly nothing other than the aviation economy is, for now, in the tank. Everyone knows this. Given that aircraft sales have taken a nasty slide, the fact that these shows remain vital is an accomplishment. If you ask me, Sun 'n Fun and AirVenture are eternal and as good as they've ever been. Hats off to the people who organize them, the vendors who display at them, the performers who perform and, above all, the people like you who attend them.

And if it was you in the Lightspeed booth wearing a khaki vest with 33 patches and 19 buttons, don't worry about it. I'll get over it.

Comments (23)

I was more interested in this really tall gal with nubian features, skin darker than the deepest coal mine, whose hips moved with the gyrations of a slowly spinning top as she walked past yet another of those aircraft that looked like a snake that had just injested a chubby rodent. I can't afford a new headset right now okay?

Posted by: Jonathan Baron | May 4, 2009 4:30 PM    Report this comment

Sorry…that was one of those remarks that seemed hilarious at the moment and now feels idiotic. It was a good show and an Alice’s Restaurant of aviation as you’d expect. Even the poorest amongst us fell for the two-for-one deal on the cloth shammies, and the only smell of death was in the area where the rock band tour sized campers were parked. The Vintage area was sparse, the experimental area was a little disappointing for an event with its roots in the EAA and, apart from a Curtiss Junior, antiques were very, very few. Diversity among attendees is always an issue and is the huge problem in GA that we really need to address. I was speaking to an airline mechanic who’s originally from Ghana who came with his children, all of whom seemed nearly terrified as they were the only black children to be seen. In short the fly-in reflected vigor, not doom, especially in light of circumstances and issues every pilot is well aware of.

Posted by: Jonathan Baron | May 5, 2009 10:36 AM    Report this comment

I've been to numerous Sun 'N Funs over the past 10 years and am somewhat disappointed at how the EAA allows its concessionaires to rip off its membership.$3.00 for an 8oz. bottle of water?

Posted by: Norman Best | May 6, 2009 6:49 AM    Report this comment

Sun'N'Fun is getting to be to much like AirVenture nickle-diming you for every thing. This year a $5 charge for parking, $35 aday to enter and $3.00 water. Poor facilities to boot.

Posted by: David Hele | May 6, 2009 7:16 AM    Report this comment

I second David's comments. The profit motive has overshadowed the original intent of the fly in. Vendors are dropping out as a result of increases in their booth rental. War Birds are not coming as their reimbursement is only for "time in the air". Attendees are tired of being nickel and dimed on water, food and now parking. And all this is with a "free volunteer labor organization". This year it was clear to me that the vendors, experimentals and most especially the war birds were in diminishing attendance from prior years, and I don’t agree that it is all the economy.

Posted by: Thomas Ewing | May 6, 2009 7:42 AM    Report this comment

Squeak, squeak, what's that sound? Oh it's a certain group when on a overnight go to a bar that has free hors d'oeuvres so they don't have to buy dinner. Come on folks, what's it cost to go to a ball game nowadays? I know all you reading this are aviators. What about the hundred dollar hamburger?

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 6, 2009 8:44 AM    Report this comment

A many year volunteer on the Warbird flight line, after last year's event (with TBirds and all the military stuff which I like) I decided to stop coming. The size of our Warbirds ramp is half what it was just 4 years ago, and gets smaller every year. Replaced with skybooths, and vendor tents. The current leadership of SnF is obviously focused on money - show me the money...they need to rename it MSnMF, for Money, Sun (depending on weather), and Maybe Fun.

Posted by: Ed Kaake | May 6, 2009 9:00 AM    Report this comment

ED K! I hear you, bro! And T. E., you "get it". Make the primary focus the gate and there won't be anything to go thru the gate for soon enough.

Posted by: Steve See | May 6, 2009 4:51 PM    Report this comment

This was my first SNF and I had a great time! I did not have any problem with the price of water or the gate. I went to Wal-Mart and had cold water in the car and I purchased my ticket in advance for a discount. However I did buy a couple of burgers. YUM. I did have issue with the wind and dust. With my wifes blessing I will be back next year. Thanks to everyone that makes SNF happen. Fly Safe.

Posted by: mark thelen | May 6, 2009 6:04 PM    Report this comment

Good on you Mark. I missed Sun N Fun for the first time in four years and hope to get back next year. I can't believe all the crabby complainers there are in aviation. All you bitchers go to a ball game or a NASCAR event or darn near anything else nowadays and see what it costs.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 6, 2009 6:28 PM    Report this comment

Hey Stu, I'd expect to get ripped off by the Yankees, but not by my own people (EAA). They seem to forget who it is that they represent.

Posted by: Norman Best | May 6, 2009 8:06 PM    Report this comment

Stu, first time in 25 years for me. I've seen the changes first hand. There are plenty of other aviation activities for me to support with my limited resources.

Posted by: Steve See | May 6, 2009 8:17 PM    Report this comment

I expect to bet “ripped off” at a Professional Sports event or even NASCAR. After all, they have all the owners who need to make millions, the players who have their well know compensation and all hired help. The food concessions are also business owned in many cases the same folks that own the teams. (In Miami Wayne Huizenga who made more money on the concessions than the team). Now lets compare that to Sun and Fun where the help is free. Where is this money going….to the owners? And who are the owners of Fun and Sun?

Posted by: Thomas Ewing | May 7, 2009 6:06 AM    Report this comment

Yes Sun n Fun was different this year. I attend so I can meet directly with the vendors and ask questions. This was easier this year due to the low attendance. I usually spend a fair amount of money getting to and from, sometimes "show deals" on products help. Not this year. Few deals, fewer giveaways. for me this is a consumer event, the airshow is not important to my visit

Posted by: Unknown | May 7, 2009 7:49 AM    Report this comment

EAA dissolved it co-sponsorhsip with SnF a few years ago. Some of the EAA divisions consider SnF a special event and judge aircraft, etc. but EAA is no longer involved in the operation of SnF. There are still many positives to SnF, but the emphasis on aviation fun now seems second to SnF obvious profit incentives. Several of the vendors I have used over the years have been "priced out" by SnF and I miss them. Its all about the money now - and to the person who asks if we know how much it costs to attend a NASCAR or IRL Indy 500 race, the huge difference is I fly my airplane but I dont drive a race car. Get it? One is a spectator event I go to see, the other is an event I participate in. Of course some go to SnF just to spectate...but most go as members of the aviation community to, well, commune. From a spectator event aspect, its costs are in line with all the other profit incentive events, but SnF is a NFP. I feel SnF is converting its event from a communal event for aviation buffs to a spectator event and making a bundle along the way. Its changed - for the worse.

Posted by: Ed Kaake | May 7, 2009 8:41 AM    Report this comment

On related Sun 'n Fun news, why is AvWeb not reporting on the war between the Sun 'n Fun organizers and Aero News Network? Whatever is going on, there is definitely a story behind it. To listen to ANN, Sun 'n Fun is on its way out due to their bad management and unsafe practices.

It seems to me an industry news source like AvWeb needs to report this story. While ANN is giving it a significant airing in their lengthy report last week, non-involved media sources not involved need to be letting the rest of us know what's up.

Standing by . . .

Posted by: DAVE SHUSTER | May 7, 2009 8:47 AM    Report this comment

I'm sure some of the admission fees pay for insurance. I attended Sun-n-Fun last year, but not this year. I mostly went to see the ultralights buzzing Paradise City, particularly any new and different ones. But there were so few true ultralights, they couldn't even give away all the awards.

Many pilots go to fly-ins to see something new and different, or a lot of the kind of planes they're interested in. If people don't fly in with their cool planes, attendance will suffer. It might help if Sun-n-Fun gave free admission to people who bring airplanes. Even though their admission fee is just a tiny fraction of the costs of bringing a plane, it might encourage them.

I'm sure a lot of the admission money goes to the air show performers. One money saving idea, used at the very last SWRFI, was to have no performances. Instead, they just let all the attending pilots buzz the pattern as much as they wanted. It was one of best and most interesting fly-ins I've recently attended. The pattern was full of cool looking and sounding planes, doing low passes and touch & goes all day long. And the airport stayed open for arrivals and departures all day. So it was very convenient for fly-in pilots.

Another grass roots fly-in is the ASC Nationals. They don't charge admission at all.

Posted by: Mark Stull | May 7, 2009 9:38 AM    Report this comment

>>why is AvWeb not reporting on the war between the Sun 'n Fun organizers and Aero News Network? Whatever is going on, there is definitely a story behind it.<<

Beats me. We don't see a story behind it because it appears to be what it has always been: a spat between ANN and Sun 'n Fun. If there's a compelling safety issue, no one has favored us with the specifics. (And yes, we've looked.)

We do hear complaints from vendors about both Sun 'n Fun and AirVenture. These relate to booth costs, traffic, services and so forth. They seem to ebb and flow by the year. If these trends represent an overall decline in either show, we haven't seen that either. Don't forget, these are both commerical air shows now, whether NP status is claimed or not. The days of cookouts and tire kicking on grass strips now belong to other shows.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 7, 2009 11:20 AM    Report this comment

Up until 10 years ago I flew or drove to SNF every year, but I got tired of their hands always in my pocket. Sounds like it hasn't changed. I'll stick with Oshkosh. At least they don't nickle and dime me to death for everything. There are several of us that no longer attend for that reason.

Posted by: Robert Matteson | May 7, 2009 12:06 PM    Report this comment

Try this one on for size...I and two other buddies flew in (3 aircraft) to the show and paid our attending & camping fees for 3 days. We parked in the general parking area and camped with some friends in motor homes in the camping area. On the 4th day we planned to leave before 10:00 so we did not buy writsbands for that day. We were carrying our sleeping bags, tents, and camping gear headed to our aircraft, but they would not let us enter the show grounds to get to our aircraft without wristbands for the day. Long story made short, it took nearly 2 hours of negotiation and a lot of climbing the chain of command to get to our aircraft to leave the show since we refused to pay for another day just to have access to our aircraft to leave.

Nickel and dime the participants like that and soon you won't have participants for the spectators to watch.

Posted by: Chris Davis | May 7, 2009 1:37 PM    Report this comment

What happened to Sun'n Fun? In years past, I have looked forward to Sun 'n Fun. What a disappointment! It cannot even compare with what it once was or with what OshKosh presently is. What is shocking is OshKosh is less expensive to attend.

In the past, there were two tiers of War Birds with at least twenty planes in the air for a War Bird Show. Now we are fortunate to see three to four. My feelings of "getting it" and not being kissed was when I was charged an absurd $5.00 for a 50 cent coca cola at this event, Sun'n Fun.

It is time for you to take the extra money you are charging us & help the War Bird owners with their fuel expenses so they can partake in Sun 'n Fun.

After all, if OshKosh can do it--you should be able to pull of a comparable show in Lakeland. David Attaway

Posted by: dave attaway | May 7, 2009 7:54 PM    Report this comment

Yeah, and on top of all that, the large families of gypsies who run most of the concessions ran out of pancake syrup every morning AFTER they'd served the pancakes. And the breakfast burritos...forget it...clearly not a one of them has ever rolled a joint. On the good side everybody on diets didn't gain a pound. You could overeat or buy a Garmin 696, your choice. And it was a blast saying "Papers please...papers!" in your best German accent when they'd stop the tram to check for wristbands.

Seriously what SNF taught me is that it's hard to conceive of an all-in-one event that could please most pilots and pay for itself. For folks who own and love the sort of aircraft I do there's Blaksburg and Lee Bottom. For Birds O’ War lovers there's Wings over Houston, and other CAF events. If you want a bit of everything GA there's Reklaw. Yet for the sheer pageantry of every gadget or new flying machine real or imagined, astonishing aerobatics every day (and a wonderful one at night), and reminders during every frantic morning of unrelenting arrivals that GA still lives, I can find no fault with this event. It was the Big Top and all that was missing was the cotton candy.

Posted by: Jonathan Baron | May 8, 2009 8:54 PM    Report this comment

I very much enjoyed Sun-N-Fun as usual and have been coming for 20 plus years. I find it a good value. All of this whining has me puzzled. If you are an aviation enthusiast come and enjoy. If you just want cheap go to Wal-mart for the day instead. Also with the cost of fuel bringing warbirds down is a major commitment. I will continue to come as long as I am able. Looking forward to 2010.

Posted by: Dale Peterson | May 17, 2009 3:04 PM    Report this comment

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