Going Direct: It Is Time for Sun ’n Fun To Cancel Its Show

Sun 'n Fun 2019
Sun ‘n Fun 2019. Photo by Jeremy King
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The news from around the country, and especially from the state of Florida, on Thursday was a torrent of announcements of closures and postponements. Leading the news was that Florida governor Ron DeSantis recommended that large events in his state close their doors in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, Disney and other Florida attractions announced they were closing their doors. The NBA, with franchises in Orlando and Miami, is taking at least a month off. Major League Baseball, which plays hundreds of spring training games in Florida and has teams in Tampa Bay and Miami, is hitting pause on its season. The NCAA has cancelled its March Madness basketball tournaments. All Florida state universities and some private schools in Florida are going to all-online courses. President Trump announced that his office has shut down much travel from Europe. Congress, in a rare show of bipartisanship, is working on emergency measures to fund everything from test kits—the United States has very limited testing capability—to funding meal programs for kids. And this is a fraction of all of the things that happened on Thursday and, again, much of it happened in Florida.

All of this, of course, is in an effort to stem the growth of COVID-19 in the United States, where until recently there has been little official response to the crisis. It has become clear, based on the data from other countries, including China and Italy, that while stopping the spread of the disease might be impossible, slowing its growth is critical to allowing our infrastructure to address the critical needs of the people who are going to get this virus. The way to do this is clear. It is what is known as “social distancing,” a strategy of keeping people away from each to slow the spread the of disease as much as possible.

Despite all this, Sun ’n Fun’s leadership says that the show is full speed ahead. It’s the wrong call, and they need to reverse course.

On its website, the organization that runs the event, the Sun ’n Fun Aerospace Expo, says, “As the primary fundraiser for the Aerospace Center for Excellence, we remain dedicated to creating limitless opportunities for today’s youth but are also committed to public health and safety,” and concludes that it is, “proceeding with SUN ‘n FUN 2020 with the health and safety of our attendees, staff, and volunteers, as our top priority.”

The dilemma here is easy enough to see. The organization does great work in providing educational and aviation opportunities for young people in Central Florida, and it does this year round. So the loss of its major fundraiser for the year, the Sun ‘n Fun fly-in, would be a body blow to the organization. At the same time, the organizers can’t have it both ways. If its “top priority” is indeed “the health and safety” of its “attendees, staff, and volunteers,” then it has only one option: To pull the plug on Sun ‘n Fun 2020.

Plane & Pilot has cancelled its attendance at the show, as have some other major aviation outlets, including AvWeb. While Sun ‘n Fun is a major event for our brand, one where we get to meet face to face with our readers and industry leaders, the risk to our staff and our families, as well as to other showgoers, is simply too great.

In the end, Sun ‘n Fun’s response to this global health crisis won’t matter a bit. It will probably be forced to cancel the show for 2020. But in the meantime, it has created a tide of negative public opinion and put the safety of its employees, volunteers, attendees and exhibitors second. And if it does somehow defy the odds and the best recommendations of public health and government officials and hold the event anyway, it will be a sad shell of what it has been for decades now. Who wants that outcome?

It is time for Sun ‘n Fun leadership to make the right call while it is still in their power to be the ones to make it and call off the event for the actual health and welfare of everyone they serve.

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