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Tue, Apr 02, 2002

Aviation "Insider" Fights Airport Ban

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 business--rudely.

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 rushed.

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 wrong.

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 convenient). 
  • Protest to EAA, Sun 'n Fun and the FAA, and the City of Lakeland. 
  • 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 aviation. Thanks!

FMI: publisher@aero-news.net

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