This Year's Fly-In Improved In Some Ways, But Attendance Was
By ANN Associate Editor Juan Jimenez
The EAA Warbirds
Association makes arrangements every year to have all their members
who are coming to SNF to stay at the same hotel in Winter Haven,
home of Cypress Gardens. At one time Cypress Gardens was -the-
attraction to see in Florida. On the day SNF 2004 closed, a
developer who had bought the property with local and state
government assistance was presenting his plans to try to revive the
park with a $35 million investment over the next 18 months. Winter
Haven is but a few miles and a buck-fifty in ever-present Florida
tolls from Lakeland.
Nevertheless, on a visit to Winter Haven's Applebee's restaurant
by a gaggle of tired and hungry ANN'rs, the waitress had no idea
what the bright orange bands on our wrists were for. In fact, she
didn't even know there was a fly-in in Lakeland -- but at least she
knew where Lakeland was located (it was a test). The cashier at
Eckerd's was not aware of SNF either. Neither were the nice ladies
at the interesting Amish cooking style diner just a few blocks from
I will grant you that perhaps I am stretching things a bit.
Maybe. There is, however, a foolproof way to find out if such is
the case. Try to find anyone within a 50 mile radius of Oshkosh,
Wisconsin, at any time of the year, who does not know about the
AirVenture fly-in. Seems to me that if people are going to come to
the airshow, and if locals represent the lion's share of potential
attendance, the locals need to know the airshow exists, no?
This might be one of the reasons why attendance numbers this
year continue to behave like the proverbial pig that tried to fly.
We will undoubtedly have to wait for the numbers to be published,
and for the obligatory comparisons between the Polk County Tourism
Board filing and the IRS documentation. I predict that the numbers
will be at least 25% lower than last year -- on all but Saturday
there were virtually no lines to buy lunch between noon and 1:00
PM. I remember when it took 15 to 20 minutes just to navigate the
lines. Those were the days.
Before anyone accuses me of looking only at the negatives and
ignoring the positives, let's cover the good news.
The selection of food from the various concession owners was
much better this year. I talked about that in the piece I wrote
last week about attendance and food. This year, patrons could
choose from cuisine ranging from "turn your veins into barbed wire"
carnival-style fare, to Greek salads complete with an excess of
very good Calamata olives and Feta cheese. The menus features
Chinese, Italian, Mexican, American and German food, among others.
There was no shortage of veggies to choose from, and Margaritaville
outdid itself during the breakfast hours. If you looked closely,
you could even find great coffee and wake-up-the-dead espresso!
The next improvement that was very much welcome was the clearing
of the parking lot at the approach end of the ultralight runway.
Cars were not allowed to park in an area the width of the runway
plus one row at either side. The space was more than adequate and I
am sure that more than one pilot was grateful for this,
particularly during periods of gusty winds.
A clear, well-defined procedure was put in place to manage
information resulting from any accident or crash, of which we saw
an unfortunate few during the show. However, I am not sure I
understand why Randy Henderson had to navigate his airplane in the
middle of a gaggle of cars just to get from the airshow performer's
staging area to the hangars. That "conga line" passed me as I was
leaving Choppertown, just before Randy's prop strike incident, and
I thought that there was an excess of cars in that operation.
Anything other than one in front and one in the rear is one too
many, and those people who cannot get through the day without
getting in the "conga line" ought to walk, not drive.
The aircraft handlers in the various parking and camping areas
seemed to be doing a good job, but as usual some of those folks let
their egos, and not their brains, dominate their actions. A good
example of this was the decision to move Cozy IV serial number 0001
from one parking spot to another in the homebuilt area. The person
directing the movement obviously didn't give an iota of thought to
the condition of the grass field, and guided the aircraft straight
into a pothole without giving a second thought to the clearly
communicated misgivings of the pilot. The impact pushed the nose
strut motor straight through the gears.
The aircraft was fixed in time for the end of the show, but
that's a subject about which I will soon write. Those folks in the
Composites Workshop are miracle workers that deserve a medal for
Every year I perform my
usual non-scientific sampling of vendors to get a feel for how the
show is going in terms of their return on investment. After all, it
costs a god chunk of money to sign up for a booth, not to mention
getting there, lugging all the inventory, paying for the hired help
if you need it, and so on. This year SNF vendors gave the show
mixed reviews, but the majority said business was a bit better than
last, even though attendance was clearly lower. Saturday seems to
have been the day to make up for the rest of the week of the
All in all, I must say that I get the impression that the show
is still in decline, but may perhaps be scraping the bottom of the
curve. What happens now is going to be entirely up to the governing
body of the show, and they had better get to work on improving
things not only externally, but also within their own internal
ranks. Word has it that the movement to start a competing EAA-type
fly-in and airshow in a nearby location has picked up steam and
some major sponsors as well.