LAKELAND, Fla. — After being canceled last year because of the pandemic, aviation enthusiasts are on cloud nine about the SUN ‘n FUN Aerospace Expo returning to Lakeland.
“It was sad that we weren't able to take part, but we all understood that and it’s great to be back,” said Richard White.
White brought his family with him from Virginia for the aviation convention.
“We’re so happy to be here. Everybody loves seeing all the planes come in and take off. That’s probably our favorite part so far. We’ve gotten in a lot of planes too. We got to go in a little helicopter,” said Ally Meservy.
The six-day event features dozens of workshops, presentations and shows, including an air show from the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels who are celebrating their 75th anniversary this year.
“This year one of the big highlights, the Blue Angels will be debuting for the first-ever in the world their F-18 Super Hornets,” said John Leenhouts, President & CEO of Aerospace Center for Excellence.
Around 225,000 people came through SUN ‘n FUN in 2019. This year’s pre-sale ticket sales have already surpassed 2019s record.
“We haven’t had an aviation fly-in for two years. That’s why it’s so exciting and the whole world is coming out to see it. We’ve never seen this kind of early purchasing,” Leenhouts said.
Organizers said SUN ‘n FUN generates about $65 million of economic impact locally. Having to cancel the expo last year was a major financial blow.
“We had to go through all of our reserves. We had PPP money that was loaned to us, we had donors that came to our rescue. And we were able to survive without going into debt,” said Leenhouts.
COVID-19 has brought a few changes to the expo. Attendees are required to wear a mask when indoors and there are multiple hand washing stations throughout the venue.
Visitors say they’re glad to get back to some sense of normal.
“This is really our first family vacation we’ve been able to take since the pandemic. Just what an awesome experience to be able to be outside see all these awesome airplanes and just share with family. It’s been really cool,” said Michael Meservy.