Aviation Journalist, Aero-Consumer Advocate and Publisher Jim
Campbell (www.aero-news.net) has become one of the most strident
voices advocating aviation safety in the lightly regulated sport
and general aviation markets. Encompassing a turbulent 25+ years as
a test pilot, journalist, magazine publisher, and aviation news
service provider, Campbell's career is facing one of its greatest
threats, not from a crippled airplane or balky engine... but from
an aviation event that does not seem to tolerate criticism.
Campbell has been banned from the Lakeland, FL, "Sun 'n Fun EAA
Fly-In, Inc.", after attempting to help aviation consumers deal
with problems that plague the event and the world of private
aviation. Problems he has documented include the lack of oversight
of vendors' selling products never delivered (comprising millions
of dollars in apparent fraud), serious safety issues involving
pedestrian/aircraft operations during the Fly-In, vendors selling
unsafe or improperly tested products (thus far responsible for
nearly a dozen deaths and dozens of injuries-including some during
the course of the Fly-In itself), unsafe airport operations,
illegal flight operations (with the direct knowledge of senior
Fly-In officials), Sun 'n Fun's harassment of other journalists (at
least three reported, to date) and a number of vendors,
inadequate/improper visitor conduct/services and what appears to be
a lack of veracity from Fly-In management over a number of factors
(such as attendance figures).
It's a safety thing...
It started over ten 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 (then) Fly-In Director
William Henderson of the hazards and illegalities they had seen,
and were roundly rebuffed and told to mind their own
The several-year-old ban was imposed after Campbell was struck
by the Fly-In director with a moving vehicle in 1998 (when Campbell
attempted to ask the Director, William Henderson, about an incident
in which he harassed a female employee to the point of tears the
previous day), and after officials repeatedly refused to
acknowledge sources of government funding that should have allowed
for Campbell's legal access to the Federally funded, city-owned
airport. The Fly-In has received nearly a million dollars in county
funds and was reported to be a "Beneficiary of Federal Funding" by
the FAA's Steven Brill, from the FAA's Southern Region
Headquarters. Additionally, State DOT funding and staffing has
directly benefited the Fly-In and airport, as well.
- Lakeland City officials have refused to get involved, though
Lakeland Mayor Buddy Fletcher implored Campbell to "only write nice
things" in a brief 1999 attempt to mediate the dispute.
- Outgoing City Manager Gene Strickland noted that the Fly-In
brings a lot of money to Lakeland and was, in part, responsible for
the 9.5 million dollars reportedly received by Lakeland from the
FAA for airport improvement... and that he "wasn't going to
interfere with that..."
However; by accepting FAA funding, the city seems to have
forgotten the obligations it undertook when it contracted with the
government to receive these funds. According to Airport Access
experts, "Under the FAA's Grant Assurances, which are part and
parcel to accepting Federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP)
funding, the airport sponsor may not discriminate against any
category or class of airport user. Additionally, according to the
FAA Compliance Handbook (FAA Order 5190.6A), a lease holder may not
create circumstances which would place the airport sponsor in
violation (non-compliance) of these assurances. This includes
restricting public access to the airport for reasons other than
those mentioned in the handbook..." Of the dozen or so major
aviation events that Campbell covers each year, this is the only
one to impose such a ban and, indeed, he is quite welcome wherever
he goes... except for Lakeland.
No One Seems to Support The Ban
- Northwest EAA Fly-In (one of the largest in the country),
Director Jim Scott says that, "Jim is always welcome at Arlington
and we have enjoyed fair and (thankfully) positive coverage." Scott
is on the record as opposing the Sun 'n Fun ban and has attempted
to see it overturned... "Its foolish," he says.
- AOPA (Aircraft Owner's and Pilot's Association; the world's
largest pilot's organization) President Phil Boyer noted that any
"working journalist... (is) always welcome at AOPA Expo (their
annual meeting/convention)"... and that "AOPA does not discriminate
against or seek to limit the access of bona fide working journalist
at our events based on the contents of their coverage. Even some
who feel themselves in a competitive situation with AOPA can, and
do, attend AOPA EXPO for both editorial and commercial reasons. As
you have seen in our press release service and our media relations
policies, our information and perspectives are put forth freely in
the marketplace of ideas, then we let the chips fall as they
rightly may." Boyer also wrote that he "valued the coverage
(Campbell and his publications) have given AOPA and General
Aviation over the years."
- Former Flying magazine columnist and retired FAA Examiner
Howard Fried is aghast at the treatment Campbell has received. "Jim
speaks his mind... as he should (and the Constitution allows),
about a lot of things that are wrong in aviation. He's chosen to
take the hard and honorable path where few would dare to go. He is
to be commended... not punished, threatened, or harassed."
- Additional protests have been filed by US Ultralight
Association President John Ballantyne (who also is an acknowledged
witness to some of the illegal and unsafe flight operations
tolerated, knowingly, by the Fly-In).
- World Airshow News Publisher Dave Weiman, numerous other
journalists and aviation industry figures, and thousands of
Campbell's readers. Publisher Weiman wrote Sun 'n Fun officials to
ask them to meet with Campbell and "...and come to some
understanding. If he has questions, we suggest that you answer them
or plead the fifth. But not answering his questions only raises
suspicion." Weiman continued, "As for the articles about some of
your exhibitors, if Jim is basing his articles on research and
facts, you should applaud him for bringing the issues to light.
Regardless; it is not SUN 'N FUN's role to act as a censoring
bureau for the news written about its exhibitors. However, it is
SUN 'N FUN's role not to promote those products which present a
safety hazard to its patrons. For that reason, we encourage you and
the board to consider what Jim is publishing, and do some research
of your own."
Harassment has, indeed, occurred with members of the Sun 'n Fun
organization's sending threatening (and occasionally
racist/obscene) letters and e-mail to Campbell, his staff and
friends. Former Fly-In Director William Henderson has also
threatened and/or harassed numerous staffers and associates of
Campbell's organization (including one retired FBI agent), and has,
in the past, referred pro-Campbell callers to a www site that
featured anti-Semitic rhetoric, obscene photos, and threats against
Campbell and his companies. The matter is apparently going to
court, where an expensive and needless battle will be waged.
According to Campbell, "we offered to let them 'off' and avoid
legal action with only an apology for the nonsense that has gone on
so far and with proper acknowledgement of our rights to attend the
Fly-In... and they refused. I can't understand this... its seems
very unwise... and highly unlawful. All I want to do is my job...
and to try and make aviation a little safer and more enjoyable for
everyone who chooses to fly."
Some of Campbell's warnings could have saved lives
As recently as the last event (in April of 2001), Russell
Legare, a visiting pilot, was giving a Sun 'n Fun volunteer's
grandson a ride (a condition of getting a parking space at the
crowded show, ANN reporters were told) when the man, admittedly
unfamiliar with procedures, was waved into position by Sun 'n Fun
officials at the lightplane area and sent to take off -- with the
wind behind him.
His airplane failed to get airborne, and crashed into a creekbed
that crossed the end of the runway. He was killed; the grandson
received critical injuries. ANN reporters learned that the Sun 'n
Fun official who was running the air operations knew, from a
professional weather station set up at his area and numerous pilot
complaints, as well as the plainly-visible wind flags at the field,
that he was foolishly sending aircraft off (and landing) downwind,
but didn't want to change the direction of the pattern -- he was
The next day, with that same Sun 'n Fun official in charge, at
the same area, ultralights and other small aircraft were still
taking off and landing downwind -- a very dangerous practice. Just
days before the accident, Campbell published warnings of numerous
known hazards at the Fly-In... and literally predicted the tragedy
that was about to take place. After both the FAA's Steven Brill and
FAA Administrator Jane Garvey reiterated Campbell's right to, at
least, enter the Lakeland, FL, FAA Safety Building (surrounded by
land Sun 'n Fun leases from the airport), Lakeland PD attorney Ted
Jacobson called Campbell and threatened to have him arrested if he
tries to gain entrance to the Federal property and refused to cite
what controlling authority he had to deny such access. A recent
(February 2002) letter from the Attorney for the Fly-In reiterates
their intent to have Campbell arrested if he goes to the Federally
Funded FAA Building, because they (allegedly) control the property
that surrounds it.
Campbell's bona fides check out.
He is invited to all the other fly-ins in the world, including
other EAA-sponsored meets. His organization, the Aero-News Network,
is popular around the world in the aviation industry, and is also
the official news source of the EAA fly-ins at Arlington (WA) and
Copperstate (in Arizona), and the Aviation Electronics Association.
Campbell's coverage of events in the past 12 months includes events
sponsored by, in addition to the EAA (Sun 'n Fun's parent), the
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the National Air
Transportation Association, the Professional Aircraft Maintenance
Association, the Helicopter Association International, the Air
Force Association, the United States Ultralight Association, the
Soaring Society of America, Women in Aviation International, and
dozens of others. The only place in the world where Campbell is
banned, is the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In.
Campbell is a graduate of the National Test Pilot School, as
well as the author of over a dozen books, including the SportPlane
Resource Guide, which is hailed as an outstanding aviation
consumer's tool that helps flyers get to the bottom of manufacturer
claims and aircraft capability in the sport aircraft market. Its
1100 pages documents tests and disseminates data about 820+
aircraft available to the flying public. He is also the author of
Air of Injustice, the story of FAA malfeasance and discrimination
against legendary airshow and test pilot Bob Hoover, for which
famed aviator and attorney F Lee Bailey wrote the foreword and
praised Campbell's research and attention to detail. Campbell is
the CEO of the Aero-News Network, the Aviation World's DAILY Online
News Service; and published US Aviator magazine for over a decade
before devoting his efforts to electronic publishing.
The ONLY place he's banned is Sun 'n Fun--period.
The founder of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Paul
Poberezny, has said it's wrong for Sun 'n Fun to ban Campbell.
The President of the EAA, Tom Poberezny, has said as much, also;
but the EAA doesn't directly control Sun 'n Fun's activities.
The Administrator of the FAA, Jane Garvey, has also said it's
It's time for Sun 'n Fun to grow up, and recognize that there's
still a free press in America, and Campbell is part of it.
What Can YOU Do About It?
ANN would like your assistance. We've not made as big an issue
out of this as we might because we really didn't believe that such
insanity would go on this long and that adults would keep acting
like this. Our estimations of their maturity and good sense have
obviously been faulty, so its time to "get real."
We need your help to make sure that as many responsible people
know about this outrage as possible.
- Contact your elected officials and ask that they step in and
enforce our Constitution (clip the above story, if you find it
- Protest to EAA, Sun 'n Fun and the FAA, and the City of
- Write us a letter for the protest file so that we can archive
that with the several THOUSAND others we've gotten over the past
few years (there IS strength in numbers).
- Make this an issue to as many of the appropriate parties
as you can and please be sure to copy us on everything you do
and (especially) any responses you get.
We've worked hard to earn your trust and serve your interests to
our best ability, and we'd like your help right now to stop an
unjust situation that needs strong and corrective action.
Aside from the crimp it puts in our ability to do our job for
you, we really disapprove of their sense that they can do anything
they want, no matter how arrogant, indiscrete, dangerous or harmful
it may be to people like you.
We have already heard from hundreds of you that intend to
boycott this year's event (and have done so in the past). We have
not yet made a decision to support or promote a full-fledged
boycott but will render a decision within a few days. We will keep
you apprised of that and associated matters. We will have much more
to say on this matter shortly, we promise.
Be heard. Be counted. Tell us what you think we need to do next.
Protest an atrocious action that is tarnishing the world of