“Pick your cliche,” said John “Lites” Lennhouts, as the president of SUN ‘n FUN kicked off his closing day briefing. “We hit it out of the park, hit a home run, what have you.”
Great weather, both locally and for those traveling from afar, strong advertising in both Tampa and Orlando, and a stout schedule all led to a banner year for SUN ‘n FUN, based at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Florida.
“We anticipated good, but didn’t expect awesome,” Lites continued.
As of Saturday night, he reported the fly-in was 20% ahead of the entire 2013 event and 11% ahead of 2012.
“Guests started lining up two hours before our ticket offices opened up Saturday,” said Lites.
Saturday morning, a call was put out over the show radio pleading for all available staff and volunteers to come to the ticket offices to help move the crowds.
Florida Governor Rick Scott stopped by for two and a half hours. He was reportedly impressed by the event and the turnout. Of particular interest to Scott was where guests came from. About 25% of the people Scott polled were from countries outside the United States.
That feeling was echoed by SkyVector’s David Graves. “I can’t believe how many people are from other countries. It’s huge.”
Lites, never one to miss an opportunity for hyperbole, said simply “our vendors are happy.”
As I wandered the four exhibit buildings on the last day of the fly-in, Sunday, April 6, Air Mod’s Dennis Wolter said Sunday was the best he can ever recall and the show overall was strong. John Rutter and Keith Russo in the Seattle Avionics display agreed.
The reps from Tactical Hearing, as they packed up, said they couldn’t remember a better SUN ‘n FUN and were most impressed with Sunday.
Sporty’s Pilot Shop President Mike Wolf said they saw increased traffic and were very happy.
When all reports are collated, Lites expects a through-the-gate count of 220,000-225,000 for the six days of the event. That’s up from 160,000-180,000 in 2013.
“We ran out of wrist bands on both Friday and Saturday,” noted Lites. “We had to dive into 2013 inventory.”
Very soon after the show ended, they will begin work on infrastructure for 2015 and beyond. The improvements include lengthening the Paradise City runway from 1,400 to 2,100 feet. Home to the Light-Sport Aircraft and ultralight crowd during the show, it will be available year-round for the Lakeland Aero Club and others.
For the ever popular Warbird area, the concrete ramp will double in size, include some permanent buildings, as well as improved water and electrical. Not all will be in place by 2015, SUN ’n FUN officials advised.
With a small full-time paid staff, SUN ‘n FUN relies on volunteers. More than 3,200 showed up this year.
The show was also safe. Two incidents were reported through Sunday morning. A Varieze suffered a gear collapse and a Steen Skybolt brakes locked up on landing causing it to tip on its nose.
The 2015 fly-in, the 41st, is set for April 21-26, 2015.