Yes, I’m Going To Sun ‘n Fun


Rochelle P. Walensky is twisting her pearls on national television and as surely as I-4 was a parking lot last Saturday, I am setting myself up here. I am going to Sun ‘n Fun. I have reviewed all the data, not that there is much worthy of the label, and have made a carefully calculated risk assessment, as though such a thing were anything other than the realm of fantasy trips to Mars. I am going. And applying the same standard Potter Stewart used to judge pornography, I will turn on my heels and flee if certain circumstances are not met. I’m planning to know it when I see it, but I can’t describe it before that.

Vague enough? I devised this penetrating strategy while sweltering in traffic Saturday on another of Florida’s ribbon parking lots: I-75 north of Apollo Beach. The whole of I-75 was mostly a parking lot on Saturday in a way that it never has been before, leading me to conclude that something is definitely going on. And what it is is good weather, pandemic fatigue, the shrugging off of vaccine paranoia and $1400 checks from the government hitting all at once. Sun ‘n Fun will, I predict, be the beneficiary or the victim of this, depending on your point of view. For another related data point, I returned to skydiving over the weekend after a five-month hiatus. So did a lot of my friends, having reached the same conclusion at the same time. We wore masks in the airplane, but nowhere else.

When I interviewed Sun ‘n Fun President Lites Leenhouts two weeks ago, he explained that in the interest of encouraging physical distancing, the show will throttle admissions to allow no more than 30,000 people on the grounds at once. He doubted it would come to that. I’m not so sure. That’s a little over two weeks from now and a chart the CDC never publishes—the curve labeled Here’s How Much I’ve Had it With These Restrictions—might just be exponential. I predict it will be better attended than expected.

But should it be? I reached my conclusion about going because of all the AVweb staff, it’s local for me and I feel a duty to the industry, our readers and our advertisers to provide as much on-scene coverage commensurate with our abilities as possible. “Commensurate” means accepting reasonable risk as a tradeoff against doing the job of covering a show. By then, I’ll be at peak immunity from my second vaccination and what’s the point of vaccination if you can’t rely on it to at least poke your head above the lip of the foxhole?

Sun ‘n Fun faced a difficult call in January. And it’s kind of binary. Should they go forward with the expo or call it off for another year? Florida is and has been free of restrictions on larger gatherings for months and restaurants and bars are, if not operating normally, seeing plenty of business. Mask usage is generally good where it’s asked, which is the case for most businesses. COVID-19 activity here has declined, but also plateaued. It’s a case of not bad news, but not good either. Had it been my call to make, I’d have made the same decision Sun ‘n Fun has, which is to proceed with a somewhat reduced event. I might have reduced or eliminated the airshows.

The event has in place what I consider a reasonable mitigation strategy and it’s well explained in the video. They’re setting out the standards and recommendations and relying on the courtesy—and self-interest—of attendees for compliance. No mask police; no breaking up of the gaggles that inevitably assemble when many people convene in the same place for the same reason. The organizers are relying on the cooperation and courtesy of people attending to comply. What a concept. I hope it works. And let’s not call this “safe,” but acceptable risk.

But there are always spoilers. Shortly after Texas lifted all of its mask mandates, a woman was arrested and cuffed in a bank after she refused to use a mask, the claim being she had the right to do so. She was right, except that the bank set its own standards and asked customers to cooperate. Those who declined could leave or face arrest for trespassing. Sun ‘n Fun won’t go that far, nor should they. Nor should anyone flout the mask requests just to make a point. I’m just as confident the former won’t happen as I am that the latter will.

The real risk is unknowable. Sun ‘n Fun attracts an older crowd so the prevalence of vaccinated people will probably be high, but who can predict a sort of local herd immunity? I consider being outdoors to represent no or minimal risk so I don’t wear a mask. But in or near crowds, it’s different. I am likely to avoid the vendor hangars entirely or enter only if they are lightly populated. What continues to animate my behavior now is what always has: Other people. I surely don’t want to contract COVID-19, but I loathe passing it on to someone else or landing in the hospital and exposing medical workers because of my own carelessness and lack of discipline. That doesn’t translate to hiding in a hole forever, but it does mean I’ll take every precaution I can where I can.

For many companies, especially smaller ones, the trade shows represent a significant portion of their marketing efforts and a chance to meet face-to-face with customers. For some, this has not happened for almost a year and a half so I am certain many feel self-imposed pressure to attend. That means their principals and employees will spend many hours in the hangars and even though the risk may be undefinable, that represents a lot of exposure to whatever it really is. If the least we can do to mitigate that is wear a mask and maintain distance where possible, this is simply not too much to ask.  

As we all know, this is a hot-button issue. I’m writing about it again because I feel it’s my job to support what Sun ‘n Fun has decided to do here, just as I supported their decision to cancel the show last year and, a few months later, AirVenture. Canceling the show for a second year running is too steep a price, in my view. The risk tradeoff is now worth it and it’s time to move forward. Cautiously.

When we published the interview with Leenhouts, I was stunned at the number of nasty comments I had to delete. Our normally well-received YouTube channel temporarily turned into a cesspool. A common accusation was that COVID-19 precautions are nothing but virtue signaling. Well, yeah, if it’s a virtue to take what measures you can to keep your mass gathering from turning into a superspreader event, I guess it is.

I’m leaving the comments open for now. And while we welcome and encourage all points of view expressed respectfully, I’ll delete the ones that include name calling or political diatribes not related to the topic at hand. For whatever reasons you deem appropriate for you, you can decide to go to Sun ‘n Fun or not, but I won’t let this become a forum to attack the organizers for trying to reduce the risk of running a major aviation event.

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  1. The issue is not the objective, science process derived data, but the emotional responses of individuals to the data. Let’s hope that the attendees will possess sufficient insight and self awareness (unlike the Southwest pilot who was overcome by his emotions) and make choices based on facts, not their emotional impulses.

  2. I appreciate your well reasoned and careful perspective Mr. Bertorelli. I follow the science and health recommendations, wear my mask per guidelines, but also recognize the need to get out and live somewhat. Especially as the summer nears and the weather warms. My greatest fear during this pandemic has been accidentally passing on Covid to someone older and/or more vulnerable. I believe that most of the time I’ve behaved in accordance. But sometimes it does feel like a moment-to-moment-gut-level-instinct decision how far away to stay from people, whether or mask up, even in the open outdoors. Truly glad to hear your support for Sun ‘N Fun and it is my genuine wish that everyone attending stay healthy, and that all your debriefs are centered around aviation, planes and new gizmos, not rude anti-mask behavior or Covid outbreaks.

  3. I made the decision to officially cancel my plans of attending Oshkosh this year about a month ago when it seemed unlikely we’d be at herd immunity before the end of the summer. It seems that might be a possibility now, but I still won’t be going because it’s a long trek out there and not cheap, and it’s still uncertain how much of a risk the pandemic will be by then. As for SnF, I’ve never been there, and it is equally as long a trek for me, so choosing the 2nd year of a pandemic (even if it is hopefully waning) doesn’t seem like the smartest thing for me to do. I’d rather live by catching up on my helicopter training that has been put on hold for a year and plan some personal fights for the fall.

  4. I’m guessing that both SnF and Airventure will see a LOT more people than anticipated; people are tired of being cooped up. SnF ain’t diddly compared to Airventure but I go — year after year — because it’s the season opener and I’m close enough to get there fairly fast. Over the weekend, the spring hot rod run was held at the Daytona Speedway and there were a lot of people there … apparently tired of being shut in, too.

  5. I have never been to SnF but I have been to Oshkosh many times. I won’t be going to either as our borders are still closed here in New Zealand and I really do miss my Oshkosh friends. I know a lot of them do go to SnF maybe one day I will do SnF.

  6. I have not attended sun and fun as such since they banned Jim Campbell of aviation news network. I check the performance schedule and we pack a big picnic lunch, drive up there and park on the northwest corner to watch the air shows .

    • The year they banned Aero-News’ Jim Campbell from SnF and had his picture on “wanted posters” at the gates, I noticed some Jim Campbell graffiti in one of the port-a-potty’s. I guess it was a precursor of the current First Amendment fights going on. Hopefully, they won’t fire up the Soylent Green factories?

  7. Face it – the organizers of any event which “used to” draw megacrowds is in unknown territory while trying to return to more usual conditions. As these events return held in limited form, it’s all practice for something approaching full-scale in the future, maybe next year. It’s all good.

  8. Operating in a consulting business where I am personally likely to be the the transmission vector as I move between clients – if nothing else I am maintaining strict masking and cleaning and wherever possible – still using remote meeting tools.

    I’m vaccinated, two weeks in and recognize I am still a potential transmission vector. As I book my weekly PCR test – I keep checking the “other” box for a reason for needing a test and in the explanation box have started typing – “Increasing public health indiscipline of others”. Which is becoming an unfortunate reality. In some senses I feel LESS safe than a year ago when restrictions went into place while we figured it out.

    This needs another good six months to get closer to herd. And the longer folks deny it – the higher a risk that the inevitable variants get a foothold instead of withering.

    I think it a fond hope that people (especially a bunch of Alpha pilots) will space and mask at Sun-N-Fun and will NOT attend for that reason. Oshkosh – same.


  9. I’m coming down from Michigan where we still have pretty tight Covid restrictions so where ever and whenever a mask is required at SnF will seem normal. After working from home and being isolated for the past year it will just be good to be out amongst airplanes and people. Hope to see you there on Thursday.

  10. Everyone talks about herd immunity. Last time I checked, herd immunity is never reached if you stay locked in your basement. You won’t magically be immune once others have built a tolerance.

    The answer is simple, if you are comfortable head to Sun N Fun, it will be great to see you. I am sure it will be run as well as if not better than the December event. I believe the data shows that December was not a ‘super spreader event’. If you are not comfortable, stay home but don’t complain about the decisions others have made on how they live their lives.

    Just my .02

  11. It’ll be good to see everybody again. It’ll be good to stretch a little and breathe good airport air again. It’ll be good to hear engines of all ilks and see the light in other people’s eyes again. It means I’ll miss our Wednesday lunch at the hangar but I’ll bring back a bagful of brochures and tales that will, once told, make my chums wish they had gone too.

    • “… see the light in other people’s eyes again” Great analogy.

      If someone asked me why I keep going to SnF and Airventure (2021 will be year 39), I’d liken it to something a Church goer I spent much time in a cubicle in an airplane factory out west once told me. I told him I no longer actively participate in Church going but that didn’t mean I wasn’t a believer. HE retorted and said, “Going to Church puts you into contact with others of your same belief system for reinforcement.” So maybe THAT is the operative word here similar to your “light” comment. We’re ready for aviation reinforcement. You get that from breathing “airport air.”

    • I haven’t stopped “breathing airport air” since the pandemic began. I’ve just been avoiding crowds or flying with other people (except for a select few that I trust), and I don’t see the prudence of that ending until we’re at herd immunity. Which, based on some people’s reaction to refusing to get the vaccine, could take a while longer than it should. But at least it seems most people in my flying club are getting vaccinated as soon as possible.

  12. There seems to be an assumption that “emotion” is a bias that only works one way. That is, emotion only biases one to take chances, to irresponsibly infect others, etc. But isn’t fear an emotion? Fear may well drive people to irrationally avoid risks, which are objectively very small. Time and again I see the phrase “following the science”, posited as always in opposition to emotion, but only one way. Well, fear can easily be an emotion that conflicts with science. What is the science ? Assuming you are properly vaccinated, you have very good immunity. Furthermore, if the virus cannot proliferate in your system due to your immunity, you are not likely to be shedding virus (I.e. making you a carrier). We keep hearing in the media uncertainties about this as well as others such as “variants. Those are speculative “fear vectors”. We can worry ourselves into permanently shutting down life. Plus, even if a vaccinated person is an asymptomatic carrier, others who are vaccinated will not contract the disease. Those who are not vaccinated can avoid events, or take the risk, based on their age and health, and free choice. I’m sorry to see some cancelling Oshkosh so many months in advance. At the rate we are vaccinating, 2+ million a day, we should be at a safe level of herd immunity by that time. Go to Oshkosh and enjoy it. I am fully vaccinated, so have no fear of SnF. If you are not fully vaccinated, make your choice based on your age and health. Let’s face it, we will all get sick at times, colds, flu, etc. That has not ended and it’s part of life. That’s no reason to bunker down forever.

  13. I live not far away and hope to go. I am vaccinated and will take precautions but less there be any confusion of just how contagious this bug is, here is real data. Three weeks ago, an organization I am in, offered free flights to our members. Six people flew with the same pilot over three 20 minute flights in a 172 (Yes a few in each flight, its a 172). The next day the pilot developed Covid symptoms and tested positive. Within a week five of the six came down with Covid. The reason the sixth didn’t get it is he had Covid 3 months ago and was still immune. It was a warm FL March day and the air vents on the 172 were wide open. No masks were in use. So this data point shows that this nasty bug is very contagious and in a confined space even with some ventilation it will make its home in you. I was getting lax in precautions, I was tired of it, but this bug is not tired of it. SO, when near others that I don’t know I will mask up for all our good. The pilot’s wife who was not at our event is still in ICU and on a ventilator. Pray for her please.

  14. You logic seems reasonable to me Paul. If the crowds at S&F follow the CDC guidelines, I think the event will be safe and successful. That is a big If in my mind. I’ll look forward to hearing your report.

    I won’t be going this year though, because even though I have been vaccinated, the folks I enjoy going to S&F with haven’t been, and the risk of getting Covid19 is not an option for them.

  15. PB … YOU are one sly doggie!

    I typically speed read these Avweb articles that catch my interest. When I did this one last night via the Avweb email linkbait, tired from hours of beating the lawn into submission, I glossed over paragraph one. I noticed Rochelle P. Wallensky’s name but blew it off as some obscure example not critically important to the subject du jour. In the interest of total honesty, I must admit I thought she was one of the Flying Wallendas (C’mon … admit it … it’s close) and maybe she fell off a rope someplace and her necklace was upside down OR it was a nom de plume of some sort? Didn’t lock on; didn’t care. I totally missed your Potter Stewart subtlety cuz I was already on paragraph two. This AM — rested — I re-read the article and comments to see what I’d see and spent more time with paragraph one. Now roaring at my computer station, my wife walks in and wants to know what tickled my funny bone. All I had to say was … are ya ready … PB! She made a silent 180 and walked out (sic). She thinks I’m nuts for spending too much time here and doing rhetorical battle. It is a bloodless sport, don’t ya know. Others here try to emulate you, too … if you haven’t noticed. Many of us STILL think Paul Berge is a pseudonym you use when you’ve had too much to drink and don’t want to be held accountable for less than stellar methods ?

    Now intrigued by the Wallensky and Stewart names, I had to dumpster dive into Google. OK … got it … Wallensky is one of the overpaid CDC charlatan know-it-all’s. Fits. Now on to Potter Stewart. OK … he had to “know it when he’d see it.” OK … also fits. Why couldn’t you just say Dr. Wallensky of the CDC and Justice Stewart’s “Knowing it … ” expression or just say, Roth Test or the Jacobellis v. Ohio decision … I’da understood (yeah, right). OH … I forgot … you have a PhD in colloquial languages. 🙂

    Now I’m picturing you on I-75 N laughing to yourself as you were thinking this “stuff” up. OR, later on your computer roaring as you wrote it knowing you have some of us on the proverbial ropes. Have you thought about therapy? On second thought, DON’T. We here would miss your ‘vays.’ Keep it up please. My high school English teacher would be proud to know that I take the time to understand new words or phrases and study other people’s writing styles. You coulda finished us all off with one of your world class videos with catchy music showing you while on your bike or in your car northbound thinking this crappus maximus up. We’da needed oxygen therapy. Hold that thought … I still laugh about the Cub video flying along and crashing. DO IT next time!

    Personally, I think it all has its root from you spending too much time stuffing yourself into a Mooney.

    “Vague” … I guess. “Penetrating strategy.” YOU win. There is only one PB !! Thank you and … Touche! Your writing is as addictive as drugs and I hope whoever owns Avweb has taken STRONG note !!

    The rest of you’se guys … Google it.

  16. “COVID-19 activity here has declined, but also plateaued.”

    Paul, I’m not sure just when you composed your piece, but that’s not a true statement. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida has been steadily rising — something on the order of an 8 percent increase from its average two weeks ago.

    Also, the B.1.1.7 mutation which is the more contagious variant first identified in Britain, is also rising exponentially in Florida, according to the latest data from the CDC.

    That should be of significant concern to anyone (un-vaccinated) who is considering spending time in the Sunshine State, whether at SnF or elsewhere.

    As of last Saturday, I am fully vaccinated so I will be at peak immunity by the start of events at KLAL on April 13. Still, I have not decided whether I am going.

    I do appreciate your commitment to covering the event on behalf of your readers/viewers and the aviation community at large. Be safe out there!

    • I used the seven day average in this chart:

      For the period I calculated, the cases were up under 3 percent. They are up a little more with the most recent data dump. Given the lag in the data and reporting errors, I deemed this to be pretty flat. For the same period nationally, the rise was a quarter of a percent. That’s higher now, as has been reported. Seven day average over a month ago, it is still lower by 3 percent.

      So, my view remains that those trends don’t justify cancelling the show. Depending on what happens during the next two weeks, they may justify me not going. As I said, I’ll know it when I see it. Having been vaccinated has not changed my behavior much other than to consider the additional risk of attending this show under the conditions I described. I may change my mind on that, too.

  17. Looking forward to a day there and will be wearing a mask when in closed spaces, as I have been for the last year. Am vaccinated but it’s still unknown if can transfer virus to others. I don’t understand what about this protocol has been hard for some to accept. On the spectrum of stuff I worry about, this is nowhere.

    • I’m just guessing here, but the resistance to simple protocols like those you mentioned could be because viruses can’t be seen, and therefore it’s hard to take seriously something so small. Add to that a healthy dose of Anti-Authoritarianism and Invulnerability (yes, this CFI can’t help but find ways to tie in the 5 hazardous attitudes to everyday things) plus a general misunderstanding of statistics, and you get the results you see today. Especially when no one alive today (or very very few) personally experienced the last 100-year pandemic.

  18. Very few people who have been vaccinated get sick from Covid, and there has been no research showing that they can contact the virus and spread it without knowing — yet.
    So enjoy the show.
    Somethings about the hangars should be different — all doors and windows should be left open, even great big hangar doors. And especially if the day is still, great big fans, with or without wings attached, should be used to blow fresh air through the open doors all day.
    As time has gone by it is increasingly clear that contact inside for longer than 10 minutes is the way clusters form and the virus spreads. Fresh air and sunshine are very good disinfectants as my (nurse) mother used to tell us while throwing us out of the house.

  19. Well-reasoned. Thanks for sharing your thought process with the rest of us. We, as a community, have a more active and visceral relationship with risk management than the general population. Appreciate seeing you flex those muscles in this area, as well. Be safe and enjoy the show.

  20. I believe attending is a personal choice. I won’t be able to make SnF but will be at Airventure. I’m what would be considered a senior citizen in the last year I have traveled for business and pleasure. I mask when required and wash often and have tested negative several times.
    I just received the vaccine last week. .Again it’s personal choice if you’re afraid of getting the virus stay home. If you’re willing to abide by the precautions go and have fun.

    • I get what you’re saying, but I wouldn’t characterize it as “if you’re afraid, stay home”. I’m afraid of the wings falling off the planes I fly, but I deem it an acceptable risk that is unlikely to happen. And I’m not particularly afraid of getting the virus, but I don’t want to risk being a possible vector of giving it to someone, and I feel the sensible precautions to take in light of the pandemic would detract from my full enjoyment of SnF or Airventure given how much time and expense it takes for me to get there in the first place.

      This may not have been your intent, but I often see an “all or nothing” reaction to attending large events like SnF or Airventure: Either you don’t think it’s a big risk and you go, or you think it is a big risk and you lock yourself in the basement. The reality is that it’s no different than making the go/no-go decision to go flying on any given day. I may think flying into a heavy non-convective rainstorm is too risky, while someone else may not, but it doesn’t mean I only fly on CAVU days either.

  21. “Sun ‘n Fun attracts an older crowd so the prevalence of vaccinated people will probably be high, but who can predict a sort of local herd immunity?”

    Well said. Spring break in Florida, Texas, and other coastal states are not primarily “staffed” by grey haired participants. SNF, Oshkosh, and previously held AOPA events are attended primarily by senior men with a mix of younger people who come from the local area out of curiosity and something to do on a weekend. In this case, SNF is faced with how to handle an aviation event with that relatively unique mix of senior people from all over the world with younger local people.

    Popular outdoor events such as car shows ( also attended by significant amounts of grey hairs and relatively younger people) provide plenty of fresh air, abundance ventilation, and normally sunshine. Relatively safe environment regarding a highly transmittable virus.

    However, SNF and Oshkosh are US aviation’s biggest venues for aviation related businesses. Aviation businesses want crowds of senior’s with disposable income flocking to their booth…the more the better. In my experience from a vendors perspective at both events is these hangars and even large outdoor booths
    (which we spent many hours setting up to prevent rain, wind, and air circulation from blowing all of our literature around and damaging the display items) generally attract two distinct crowds. One is the focused aviation consumer looking for a deal and/or one on one product demonstrations, that being primarily senior, aviation interested citizens. The other is the local curiosity seekers, attending a local but well promoted event that they normally have no business interest to purchase a product or services from. Its a place to get out of the sun or rain, maybe ask a question or two, let the kids touch and feel, moving on to the next booth or hangar to do likewise.

    How to handle those aviation business areas, making it practically viable for the businesses to function yet prevent too many people from congregating in close quarters (whatever that number and definition really is within an ongoing pandemic) is not only a planning conundrum/nightmare but a potential liability if what works at a car show or spring break beach parties does not work at a crowded aviation event. At the end of the day, the only way SNF and Oshkosh are adequately funded is this mix of businesses with large attendance figures.

    This somewhat unique mix of old, older, relatively younger, and young people people in a mix of hangar/booths and outdoors makes for some equally unique challenges. In these modern times, I expect to see a small but vocal ( and video toting) faction of people who will attend to simply push the hot buttons of propriety and common sense because it’s “their right” to do so. How the local SNF officials will handle that will be interesting. How the senior attendees handle that will be equally interesting. New uncharted waters for everyone attending.

    I agree with Paul…”I’m planning to know it when I see it, but I can’t describe it before that.” And Potter Stewart…” I know it when I see it”. And like Paul said…”I’ll be at peak immunity from my second vaccination and what’s the point of vaccination if you can’t rely on it to at least poke your head above the lip of the foxhole?”. At some point all of us will have to poke our heads above the lip of the foxhole. The question is for me and any other folks planning on attending, is SNF the place I want to do that?

    Thanks Paul for your well reasoned, enlightening, yet humorous process you are going through to determine is this the place to come out of the pandemic foxhole.

  22. Coming out of a “pandemic foxhole”, that’s one way to look at it, I suppose. It actually describes the central problem, in my opinion, of the greatest challenge we face with this pandemic.

    More to my view is the description that our team has worked, sacrificed and pushed hard – despite many severe penalties – to finally get to the Red Zone, goalposts looming in sight, and with the coaches and assistants giving solid, well-proven plays from the sidelines, we allow the possibility to turn the ball over at the last minute because of impatience, ignorance and defiance of the coaches – we risk to sabotage our own potential for a well-earned win.

    Something like this air show in Fla might be fine if protocols are minded, splinter groups like ours are not the problem. We won’t make or break the goal of a touchdown. Unfortunately, we’re just one of the players, it’s half of the rest of the team that can’t see past the other team’s 1 yard line that could be our loss in the future.

  23. As is mentioned many times on these Covid blogs I think what drives us all crazy is the lack of definitive information.

    We aviators are comfortable mitigating risk using data that is proven and unquestionable. We know the airplanes performance charts were created by people that know what they are doing. We know the approach plate numbers are verified and safe. We know the laws of physics are the same for every flight.

    We don’t have that kind of information to mitigate Covid risk. We have to dig and extrapolate and guess. The “experts” have been wrong, a lot, from the beginning. The media is not reliable since bad pandemic news means more viewers or clicks. If it bleeds it leads and they will always want to scare us.

    I looked at a recent study of the Pfizer/Moderna vaccines. Of 4,000 people, in varying states of varying ages, that were vaccinated, 8 contracted Covid after shot one and 3 after shot two. No one became terribly sick and none died. That is evidence of very effective vaccines.

    In all the media sensationalism has there been any reports of widespread sickness after the vaccination shots? I’ve heard of none. Certainly, if people were getting sick or dying after vaccination it would be in our face all day long.

    My conclusion: If you are old and you are vaccinated, go to SNF. If you are young and healthy go to SNF.