When he signed the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that funds the federal government through the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, President Donald Trump changed everything at SUN ’n FUN — at least for this year.
That’s because included in the bill is a requirement that the FAA cover all costs of ATC services at general aviation events that promote aviation, like SUN ’n FUN and EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh.
That saves SUN ’n FUN $280,000 this year.
That’s another $280,000 that can go towards more scholarships and more educational programs to inspire more kids to choose aviation as a career, according to John “Lites” Leenhouts, SUN ’n FUN president.
That’s means another 24 more pilots or another 56 $5,000 college scholarships, he said, doing a bit of quick math.
“These scholarships help students go to college, learn to fly and learn to fix airplanes,” he said.
Proceeds from SUN ’n FUN — and other activities throughout the year on the SUN ’n FUN campus — go towards educational activities to create more pilots and aviation professionals.
And many of those scholarships go to kids who never would have considered aviation as a career, according to Leenhouts.
“They couldn’t afford to get into aviation,” he said.
So, at a time when pilots, mechanics and other aviation professionals are in such demand, these scholarships help kids afford the training needed to have a career in the aerospace industry, he explained.
It was in 2013 when the FAA, under then-administrator Michael Huerta, first forced the big airshows to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover the costs of providing air traffic control services at the fly-ins.
Outraged that the FAA was essentially taxing events to promote aviation, GA advocates started lobbying in Washington, D.C., against the requirement.
The loudest — and most persistent — voice against the requirement was Experimental Aircraft Association President Jack Pelton. His tireless lobbying efforts made the difference, according to Leenhouts.
But, it’s not time to celebrate just yet, according to Pelton.
He said it’s important to realize that the language in the omnibus bill provides relief to the airshows for just this fiscal year, lapsing at the end of September.
Lobbying will continue to get the provision written into the FAA reauthorization bill, Leenhouts noted. This would give relief to the airshows for several years from an expense that grows every year, adding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Leenhouts is quick to add that the controllers who work SUN ’n FUN are, without a doubt, the best of the best.
“They’re great folks. They really are top-notch controllers, and we enjoy working with them,” he said.