The Annual Cold War With SNF Begins
By ANN Editor Pete
"Well, Fred, you knew the job was dangerous when you took
That line from the Jay Ward cartoon, "Super Chicken," rings in
my ears this week as the aviation community gears up for the Sun 'N
Fun Fly-In at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport (FL). While a lot of
us look forward to the event, I cringe. Because Jim Campbell, my
publisher, is once again at war with Sun 'N Fun.
More appropriately, Sun 'N Fun is at war with Jim
Campbell. He's received telephone calls from officers with the
Lakeland Police Department warning him that if he tries to attend
this year's show, he'll be arrested for trespassing (Note: at a
public airport housing FAA facilities). He's been banned by the air
show from attending the AOPA Pilot Town Meeting Thursday night. He
can't go into the FAA building. The reason appears (and has been so
stated) to be Jim's reporting on consumer and safety issues in a
way that simply makes SNF look bad.
I first encountered the Lakeland Linder Cold War a couple of
years ago, when I first signed on at Aero-News as a part-time
writer/editor. I was, as is a reporter's nature, skeptical at first
of claims from both sides on the reasons this conflict got started.
So I concentrated on the facts. I also contemplated the
responsibilities of a journalist and editor in a situation that has
become adversarial, to say the least. Here's what I've come up
Safety IS An Issue
Arrival procedures are unclear and barely controlled. This
appears to be the result of a formal agreement between the FAA and
NATCA, the air traffic controllers' union. To confuse matters
even more, SNF controller duty is highly sought among ATC-types. So
instead of having the same controllers in the Lakeland Linder tower
every year, the crew is constantly rotated. Last year, after months
of investigation, Campbell wrote, "controllers are selected on
organizational seniority criteria… even if they've never
worked a VFR tower or have only been a radar person, etc., -- all
they need are a CTO (Control Tower Operator's Certificate) and to
be current (in a tower), with enough seniority to meet the union's
negotiated contract articles. The result of all this is that the
overall experience (SnF-wise) espoused by those working the towers
is not what it could be…"
The result? Twenty-four accidents in 2002 alone -- one of them
Safety has been a big problem on the ground as well. Last year
alone, two people were struck by taxiing aircraft. This, after
warnings that attendees were being allowed too close to ground
operations. That warning came from Aero-News and publisher Jim
Honesty Is An Issue
Let's face up to a little secret within the airshow industry:
most attendance figures are inflated. In most cases, this is
certainly not a deliberate act of deception. As inaccurate as they
are, these numbers still become the foundation upon which
sponsorship rates are charged and, thus, have a remarkable effect
on the amount of revenue generated by an air show.
But combine the inability to get an accurate gate count with the
natural enthusiasm of an event staff and the numbers can be off by
ten, 20 or even 30 percent. But in the case of Sun 'N Fun, local
media report the count was off by several HUNDRED percent. The line
of demarcation between optimism and cheating lies somewhere between
a 30-percent exaggeration of the numbers and one that stretches to
several times the actual attendance. This was pointed out in
several articles that Jim wrote about SNF before the local media
hopped on the story last year. As a result, it's apparent that the
640,000 attendees SNF has claimed in the past is actually more like
Banning A Journalist Is Bad Business
But perhaps the most egregious error on the part of organizers
Bill Eickoff and John Burton is the decision to ban Jim -- and
Jim alone (though, other journalists have had serious problems with
the event, as well) -- from the field during Sun 'N Fun. If I were
the organizer of an air show and someone wrote bad things about my
event, I'd make every possible effort to coopt that reporter, to
address in a public way the concerns raised. Instead, SNF has
buried their heads in the sand and Jim's point has been that people
are being hurt and even killed as a result. SnF and company seem to
have forgotten the line first made famous by President Franklin D.
Roosevelt during World War II: "The only thing we have to fear is
If things at SNF really aren't as bad as Jim has reported in the
past, then what does SNF have to fear by allowing Campbell access?
As Jim has proven time and again over the years, banning him
doesn't stop him from writing stories about SNF. He simply gathers
the information by phone or by interviewing sources away from the
venue. On the very face of it, the SNF "Ban Campbell" movement
seems like an acrid mixture of fear and sour grapes.
I feel I know Jim Campbell. I believe he is a man of good intent
whose reporting is accurate and verifiable. I also know him to be a
stubborn guy, perhaps the most tenacious I've ever met. And you
know what? In the journalism business, that's a good thing. Edward
R. Morrow showed his tenacity in taking on Sen. Joe McCarthy.
Woodward and Bernstein showed it in reporting on Watergate. Jim
Campbell has shown it in reporting on Sun 'N Fun.
So if SNF has nothing to hide, I say ban the ban. Let the gates
swing wide and allow Jim passage because, in the reporter business,
truth is always a defense. Free Jim Campbell.