The Good, The Bad, and The Airworthy... We'll Get It All!
By The Editorial Staff Of The Aero-News Network
As you read this, the ANN staff is making final preparations at
our lakeside rental house/headquarters adjacent to Lakeland, FL for
our annual coverage of Sun 'N Fun 2007, which... for now... retains
its title as the inaugural (but fading fast) event of the Fly-In
It's an exciting time for all of us... as, let's face it, there
are worse things to do for a week in April than be surrounded by
airplanes, and plane enthusiasts, in Florida.
For those familiar with the ongoing dispute between the Fly-In
and ANN Publisher Jim Campbell -- who remains persona non
grata at the fly-in, by (illegal) decree of Sun 'n Fun
organizers -- it's also no secret that we approach the show with
decidedly mixed feelings.
For all the fun and excitement an airshow brings to our hearts
-- and Lakeland should be no exception to that rule -- this event
is also overhung by an ominous cloud, darkened by words such as
"censorship" and "suppression."
Make no mistake: ANN's coverage of Lakeland, as always, will be
as full as the event warrants, and it will be fair -- as always.
The rest of the ANN gang will be at the show throughout the week to
report on all the goings-on at Lakeland-Linder Regional Airport.
Believe us... there will be some MAJOR aviation news
coming from LAL this week, and Aero-News will be bringing it
all to our readership and listeners.
And, just as in every year since
1998, our most senior and experienced staffer will be relegated to
working behind the scenes, banned from the show grounds -- and
cheating all of you of the expertise and insight he might bring,
from being right there where things matter. Despite an apparent
attempt to muzzle Jim's coverage of safety and other issues at
Lakeland, however, that doesn't mean that he won't be intimately
involved with the show's goings-on (even though this nonsense has
gotten so out of control that Sun 'n Fun won't even let him cross
to the FAA building -- in apparent and flagrant violation of
"I knew nothing of the Sun 'N Fun controversy when I first
joined ANN for Oshkosh 2005," says Managing Editor Rob Finfrock.
"So, I researched the issue... in past issues of US Aviator and
ANN, of course, but also from other publications with no
ties to Jim whatsoever. What I saw was clear evidence of safety
infractions, gross overreporting of attendance figures and other
issues, that weren't (and aren't) necessarily limited to Sun 'N Fun
-- some have been seen at other shows, as well, although
to an admittedly lesser extent.
"What I also found, however, was a seeming lack of interest
by Sun 'n Fun organizers to identify and rectify -- or at least
discuss -- those issues," Rob continues. "Instead, they chose to
ban the loudest voice of protest... which, as anyone who knows Jim
Campbell is aware, is only baiting the bear. Sun 'N Fun is the
only show that has taken the drastic step of banning a
journalist from its grounds. It is not the only convention, fly-in,
or air show that has ever been criticized."
Despite all the official stupidity, we're going to do our jobs
this week, and you're going to hear and see all about it.
Why? Because we're professionals -- and because it's absolutely
our responsibility to be there.
Why Jim Campbell Was Banned From Sun 'n Fun:
It started over 15
years ago, when Jim Campbell (himself a former world ultralight
record-holder) and the President of the US Ultralight Association,
John Ballantyne, were watching the lightplane activities at Sun 'n
Fun. They noticed dangerous and illegal activity: unlicensed and
unqualified pilots were giving rides to passengers in unregistered,
illegal flying machines -- for money.
Some of the flying wasn't very good, either -- and a lot of it
took place over busy parking lots, where thousands of show-goers
had to walk.
Campbell and Ballantyne complained to a (then) Senior Fly-In
Official, of the hazards and illegalities they had seen, and were
roundly rebuffed and told to mind their own business--rudely.
As years went by, Campbell, in person and in print [Campbell was
the publisher/editor of US Aviator magazine over that period of
time], continued to try and convince Sun ‘n Fun to pay more
attention to the safety and well-being of their visitors. Year by
year, the situation grew tenser, and Campbell’s efforts drew
more criticism from Fly-In officials. Dozens of hazards were
documented and reported. Eventually, several members of the Fly-In
directly threatened him with ouster unless his editorial efforts
were kinder and less-critical.
The organization's criticism turned to harassment. Campbell was
threatened and assaulted by Sun 'n Fun staff and organizers; and
his business was interfered with on a number of occasions,
including verified accounts of having his staff harassed, and even
threatened, by several individuals who run the Fly-In.
Campbell proved to be a magnet for those (many) vendors and
attendees who were wronged by the airshow management, as well, and
his files grew. The Fly-In turned a deaf ear to many complaints
about some vendors who cheated their customers or offered unsafe
Sun 'n Fun management often took the
side of the offending vendors, even to the point of using the
Fly-In's security personnel to keep legitimate subpoenas from being
served at the show (although the interference was selective -- the
show didn't interfere with servers' access to out-of-favor
Nine years ago, just minutes after a (then) Senior Fly-in
Official ran Campbell down with a golf cart, Fly-In President
William Eickoff approached Campbell with members of the Lakeland
Police Department and ordered him off the property. He has been
banned ever since from the Fly-In (despite one temporary and
fleeting change of heart... when TV cameras were present) and the
nearby Federally-funded FAA building, all located on property that
has been the beneficiary of millions of dollars in public funding
-- and remains the only Fly-In in the nation to take such an