Introducing the Polk Aviation Alliance

It’s never too early to start planning for Sun ‘n Fun’s annual fly-in. This 38th edition of a great general aviation event presents the folks at Sun ‘n Fun, the aviation community, and each individual aviation enthusiast with the opportunity to really make something of the new year. And we here in Polk County, Florida, have something new, as well, to boost general aviation: The Polk Aviation Alliance.

But before I tell you about that, you can be assured the Sun ‘n Fun crew has been hard at work making big things happen. From what I’ve been able to gather so far, this year’s event promises to be truly outstanding. And to answer the burning question that lingers after last year’s meteorologically challenging get-together…yes, Sun ‘n Fun is ready for whatever comes their way.

Although weather as extreme as the tornado that blew through last year is rare in Florida, Sun ‘n Fun is taking no chances on rolling the dice. They’ve engaged the potential issues in commendable fashion and can proudly announce that they are now a National Weather Service designated, “StormReady” community. So rest easy. Being caught by surprise is no longer in the cards.

You have to love it when the folks in charge see a need for improvement, assess their options, and take action. That sort of decisiveness is rare, but tremendously welcome when it comes along.

Thankfully, and at long last, that spirit of planning and taking action has spread beyond the confines of the Sun ‘n Fun grounds.

For 38 years the throngs of visitors to Sun ‘n Fun have been flocking to Polk County, Florida, from all over the map. They come from all 50 states and more countries than you can shake a stick at. They come by car, by train, by commercial air transport, and in general aviation aircraft. No matter how they travel, however, they all share one trait in common — they spend money along the way. And while pilots are renowned for being cheap, stingy, tight with a dollar, and even miserly, the cumulative dollar amount spent in the pursuit of attending this noble event is impressive, to say the least.

Every airport in the county sees some benefit from this annual event. Some more than others, but for most of us the week of Sun ‘n Fun is the busiest week of our year. That was just happenstance though. Most of the local communities did nothing in particular to support the big dog that brings those thousands of transients to our doorstep. But that’s all changed now. Because this year you will begin to see signs of life from a new organization specifically dedicated to expanding and enhancing the benefits of general aviation to the community at large.

Please allow me to be the first to introduce you to the Polk Aviation Alliance. This loose partnership includes the airport managers and support staff of the four municipally owned airports in Polk County. Bartow Municipal Airport, Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, Lake Wales Municipal Airport, and my own home field here in Winter Haven have banded together with the folks from Sun ‘n Fun, the management of Fantasy of Flight, and the Central Florida Development Council to expand general aviation into the economy of the region more effectively. Said another way, Polk County is as pro-aviation as you can get, and that’s just our starting point.

This new organization has launched itself on the mission of maximizing the benefits of aviation as an economic engine of considerable value to the people, the businesses, and the communities of the entire county. And just to be clear, Polk County is larger than Rhode Island, and nearly equal in size to Delaware. We’re not talking small potatoes here.

When you attend Sun ‘n Fun this year you may not see blatant outward signs of change, unless you’re looking for them. But it is entirely fair to say that you will be standing on ground zero of an event that launched an initiative that has turned an entire county, its government, and its economic future in a direction that recognizes aviation as a powerful component of our recreational, educational, manufacturing, and retail environment.

That’s a bold statement, surely. It’s entirely true, however. And better than that, this is just the starting point. Sun ‘n Fun began as a small, local event 38 years ago that brought together men, women, and children who had an affinity for general aviation. They set their sites on providing good southern hospitality to their friends, neighbors, and guests — and they succeeded.

That was just the just the beginning. Many of those same people, along with a passel of their new friends, are still delivering on that same goal today, albeit on a significantly larger scale. Just as the original Sun ‘n Fun was the start of something big, I believe we will all look back one day and recognize what a firecracker of an initiative the Polk Aviation Alliance has undertaken.

So as you make your plans, pack your bags, and set your sights on Sun ‘n Fun’s flightline, be aware that you’re welcome throughout the county all year long. We’re all dedicated to helping to make Sun ‘n Fun the destination of your dreams — no matter how you get there, or where you stay while you’re in the neighborhood.

Y’all are welcome anytime, throughout this county we call home. We’re set to prove that over the long haul, too. From the lineboys to the county commissioners, and everyone in between – we’re looking forward to showing you exactly why general aviation is on the rise in Polk County. No kidding! We mean business.

Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He also is an owner and contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach Jamie at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com

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