Why would you fly to Sun ’n Fun?

Questioning pilots flying into Sun ’n Fun is an unexpected thing to hear from the fly-in’s new safety advisor to the president, Ben Coleman.

Coleman is a nationally renowned aviation safety expert with more than 38 years of experience, much of it with the NTSB and FAA. He has investigated more than 400 aviation accidents through which he has amassed a number of safety principles that he shares with the general aviation community through the Sun ’n Fun website, blogs and forum programming.

“There is a cornucopia of safety related information in aviation,” he said. “All of it put together is useless unless the end user is confident, competent, proficient and motivated.”

When Coleman questions your desire to fly to SUN ’n FUN, he wants people to read further — “unless you are:

  • Current
  • Proficient throughout all airspeed regimes of your aircraft
  • Have practiced crosswind landings
  • Have done proper planning
  • Know the NOTAM inside and out
  • Have studied the weather for the previous three days checking for trends
  • Your aircraft is mechanically sound; and
  • Have arranged several days at the end of the fly-in to get home

“We could go further, but it has been my experience that some pilots look forward to Sun ’n Fun because it is the first place to go after a long cold winter,” he said. “In some cases the aircraft hasn’t flown in many months, including the pilot. Now they are going to load up three friends or family and luggage and takeoff over gross on a fool-hardy trip to central Florida. It is heart-wrenching to investigate an accident and uncover situations that resemble the above. It is so preventable!”

While the staff at Sun ’n Fun wants all pilots and aviation enthusiasts to visit the fly-in, they want everyone to arrive and depart safely, Coleman said. “Learn all you can about the journey and don’t push yourself or the weather,” he said.

Coleman acknowledges that the recent economic downturn has led to some belt-tightening, which makes it “easy for some folks to justify cutting corners on maintenance, fuel, or insurance.”

“That is when we need to think smarter about where we cut funds,” he said. “Operations of your aircraft and proficiency flying is NOT the place to start cutting. Start thinking of better ways to increase your activities in the air and how to cover the bills. After all, it is worth saving your life!”

As resident safety advisor to the Sun ’n Fun President John “Lites” Leenhouts, Coleman has been tasked with reviewing the entire fly-in operation to take safety to the next level.

“Our commitment to safety is one of the cardinal values in the day-to-day operations of our campus,” said Leenhouts. “It is paramount in the operation of our annual International Fly-In & Expo.”

While ensuring the safety of pilots and aircraft owners, Coleman also knows that ensuring the safety of those new to aviation — “many of whom have never even been up close and personal with an airplane” — is paramount. He’s worked closely with Sun ’n Fun staff and volunteers to sharpen their sensitivity to potential risks.

“I am constantly on vigil for safety issues and have the experience to delicately recommend changes in the operations of the organization to help mitigate those risks,” he said.

Coleman is a pilot and A&P with IA, as well as a senior parachute rigger. His aviation career began in 1975, covering the gamut from private manufacturing to airlines to the NTSB and FAA. After retiring from the FAA, he spent two years in Iraq as an aviation safety officer for the State Department. He now runs Ben Coleman Associates and Aerospace Management Systems Institute in Lakeland, which is dedicated to assisting organizations like Sun ’n Fun in safety and preventative management systems. He also is co-founder and vice president of a new television network start-up, Air & Space Television in Orlando.

For more information: Sun-n-Fun.org



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