U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (FL-15), Lakeland Linder Regional Airport's Director Gene Conrad, and SUN 'n FUN's President and CEO John R. "Lites" Leenhouts issued a joint statement regarding the impact of the across-the-board cuts, known as the sequester, on both the Lakeland Airport and the SUN 'n FUN Fly-In event.
The FAA has threatened to shut down Lakeland Airport's control tower due to these across-the-board cuts.
Proceeds from sponsors, exhibitors, attendees, and benefactors received by SUN 'n FUN are used to provide education programs for youth in and around Polk County. Having to foot the bill for air traffic controllers, safety officials, and other professionals normally staffed by the FAA would substantially reduce the amount of funds available to maintain current and increased levels of outreach and education materials in the community.
Lites applauded Rep. Ross for his stance on the budget cuts and sincerely appreciates the support for SUN 'n FUN. "If we look at the FAA funding for this event as a public/private partnership, the contribution from the government of $200,000 could easily garner $50 million in private sector support for the local community as money is spent on travel and lodging, SUN 'n FUN convention expenses, meals and shopping, airplanes that are purchased, and ultimately for students who are exposed to new career options. Everyone involved in aviation is a great citizen and returns exponentially to their communities the qualities that can stabilize and enhance a neighborhood."
"We all understand and support the need to curb federal spending. Unfortunately, the manner with which these sequester cuts have been proposed by the FAA are disproportionately burdensome on regional airports like Lakeland with over 80,000 tower operations annually and General Aviation as a whole," said Conrad. "Over the first two months of this year our tower operations are up 27 percent and with Sun 'n Fun just over 30 days out we were notified that our Federal Contract Tower may close and that the FAA may not send over 50 FAA controllers to Lakeland to augment our tower staff during Sun "n Fun. The show will go on; however, it will be negatively impacted without the presence of the FAA at the world's busiest air traffic control tower during the six day event."
"Instead of these arbitrary across-the-board cuts which have devastating impacts on entire communities, we must cut waste, fraud, and abuse to make our government more responsible, effective, and efficient," said Ross. "SUN 'n FUN not only provides incredible economic value to Lakeland, but it serves our children by investing $1.4 million dollars annually in education. It is unacceptable to cut this important funding."
SUN 'n FUN has annually returned about $1.4 million of funds received to conduct aviation programs and expand science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in Polk County.