Too big for one airport

Thousands of spectators stream through the gates to SUN ‘n FUN each day. They come from down the street and around the world. When they step onto the grounds they encounter hundreds of aircraft of all shapes and sizes.

Flying overhead are biplanes built in the 1920s, transports from the 1940s, production aircraft that span several decades, and fighter aircraft at the cutting edge of today’s technology. Vendors take up residence seemingly on every square inch of ground that isn’t already taken up by campers or parking lots.

It doesn’t take long for it to become apparent that SUN ‘n FUN makes a profound impact on this area. This non-profit corporation with year-round activities that has dedicated itself to the advancement of aerospace education and to supporting the dreams of young people who want to become a part of the industry is making a difference. How big an difference? Huge. So big in fact it can’t all be contained on a single airport.

SUN ‘n FUN 2014 hit the ground running with pre-show ticket sales at nearly two and a half times their normal levels.

“Tuesday was about 10% up,” reports SUN ‘n FUN President John “ ites” Leenhouts. Other days have seen attendance increases of equal or greater numbers. “It’s not just a great year,” says Lites, “It’s an awesome year. The world is coming to SUN ‘n FUN.”

Fifteen miles down the road in Winter Haven, the impact is being felt on Gilbert Field. Airport Director Debbie Murphy has seen recent traffic levels higher than they’ve been in years.

“It’s been crazy,” she says with a chuckle, “but it’s been crazy good.”

She credits SUN ‘n FUN with providing the draw that fills her tie-down slots, ushers customers into the restaurant on the field, and creates a short-term business boom that benefits the airport she’s charged with running.

Peggy Preston is half of the husband and wife team that operates Preston Aviation. While husband Tim flies the company’s Piper Cub and Stearman, as well as handling maintenance duties, Peggy books students and handles the business of the office. “We’re usually booked the week before, during, and after SUN ‘n FUN,” says Peggy.

This small company, which specializes in taildragger training, benefits every year from the boost SUN ‘n FUN brings to town, as does Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base located next door, and the maintenance businesses on the field.

“What’s really fun is people coming up to Tim and saying, ‘I flew with you 10 years ago,’” Peggy says. “I love the activity.”

Bartow Municipal Airport reports similar boosts to its typical customer count during the days surrounding SUN ‘n FUN. This former military base where P-51s once zipped through the air and where two future astronauts with the historically significant names of Ed White and Buzz Aldrin were once stationed, now sees its busiest traffic and most customers during the week when SUN ‘n FUN is going on.

All the normal tie-downs are filled at Bartow, which causes them to revert to their contingency plan, tying down transient aircraft on taxiways they close to thru traffic. “We rented some hangars, too,” says Airport Director Cindy Barrow.

They’ve even welcomed a flight school from Lakeland to take up space at Bartow Municipal for a short time while the big show is going on at Lakeland Linder.

SUN ‘n FUN isn’t just one week a year. It’s a year round endeavor that has a real impact on the counties educational system and the students who populate it. It’s also an economic driver that benefits the entire region. Here in central Florida general aviation really matters —thanks in large part to the history, the vision, and the drive of SUN ‘n FUN. We’re glad you came!

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