Sun ‘n Fun Leads Way To AirVenture Oshkosh

Diamond Aircraft’s exhibit at Sun ‘n Fun 2021: Photo credit: Molly McMillin

AirVenture Oshkosh organizers are taking lessons learned from the recently held Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo for its return July 26 to Aug. 1. The AirVenture show is a go.

Sun ‘n Fun ran April 13-18 in Lakeland, Florida, the first major airshow in more than a year. Both air shows, like most events throughout 2020, were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s good to be back planning for a show again,” said Dick Knapinski, director of communications for the Experimental Aviation Association, which hosts the AirVenture event. “It is kind of great to see that enthusiasm talking to our people who were down there (at Sun ‘n Fun). There were days there that were very active. It looks like it was a very successful public event.”

Sun ‘n Fun laid the foundation in two areas, he said. First, to gauge the enthusiasm, and second, too see how attendees reacted to guidelines or restrictions put into place, knowing that some will follow them and some will not, Knapinski said.

“Between what we saw at Sun ‘n Fun and the enthusiasm we’re hearing for Oshkosh gets us fired up about it, especially because we’re within 100 days of the show,” he said.

It’s a little early to come up with a specific list of lessons learned from Sun ‘n Fun, Knapinski said. But they plan to talk to Sun ‘n Fun organizers about what worked and what didn’t.

Cirrus Aircraft representatives at Sun ‘n Fun said they were “pleasantly surprised.”

“We teetered on the fence on whether to go or not,” Patrick Sniffen, Cirrus Aircraft director of marketing, said of exhibiting at Sun ‘n Fun. Some of the other OEMs either scaled back or decided not to attend.

“We did see it as a bit of a test to see what the appetite was for folks to come out,” Sniffen said.  Cirrus aircraft owners showed up. “We had great traffic,” he said. “We were especially happy to see the number of new prospects of folks who were seriously looking at potentially purchasing an aircraft.”

The company received a large number of leads from the event, he said. “We see it as a positive indicator to see what Oshkosh may (hold) as well.”

Sun ‘n Fun organizers did not respond for requests for final attendance figures. But they had said they were pleased by ticket sales early into the show.  By the time the show opened, advance ticket sales had exceeded $1.2 million, surpassing a previous average of about $900,000 in ticket sales by the show’s opening, said John Leenhouts, president of Sun ‘n Fun and the Aerospace Center for Excellence. In the seven days prior to the show’s opening, there were 1.1 million hits on its social media accounts.

“The world is tracking us hard and heavy,” Leenhouts said. “The world is ready for an aviation event,”

Cirrus officials are in the midst of planning the details of its exhibit at AirVenture. While the size of the exhibit may stay the same, the configuration may change. They want to provide more open spaces along with a comfortable respite from the summer heat. They also will stay sensitive to COVID restrictions.

Annemarie Mercedes Heikenwalder, aircraft sales manager for Diamond Aircraft, said she hoped the show was setting the groundwork for AirVenture Oshkosh. Sun ‘n Fun is Diamond’s second largest show. AirVenture  is the first.

Molly McMillin

Molly McMillin, a 25-year aviation journalist, is managing editor of business aviation for the Aviation Week Network and editor-in-chief of The Weekly of Business Aviation, an Aviation Week market intelligence report.