Organizers of the annual Sun ‘n Fun fly-in in Lakeland, Florida, say they have paid a substantial outstanding balance relating to last year’s tornado, which tore through the show grounds and damaged dozens of airplanes. The organization had been seeking to recoup cleanup costs from aircraft owners’ insurance companies with limited success. In a memo on the Sun ‘n Fun website, event president and CEO John “Lites” Leenhouts said the remaining unrecovered balance has now been paid in full.
“Following the devastating storm during the 2011 Fly-In event, nearly 30 aircraft were damaged to the point where removal of aircraft and hazmat cleanup were necessary in order to maintain a safe environment for all guests, exhibitors, vendors and volunteer staff,” Leenhouts wrote in the memo. “Sun ‘n Fun requested that aircraft owners submit their towing and cleanup costs associated with their aircraft to their insurance companies for consideration of payment. Approximately 40 percent of the total bill (as of March 1, 2012) has been recovered from these insurance companies, leaving Sun ‘n Fun with a substantial balance. Sun ‘n Fun has paid this remaining balance in good faith on behalf of those who chose not to submit the bill to their insurance company or who did not carry insurance.”
Leenhouts went on to note that at no time did the organization request that individual aircraft owners pay cleanup bills directly. “For the record, the average cost passed along to each aircraft owner involved was only $2,500, with the most being $19,000, which was paid by an insurance company as requested,” he wrote in the memo.
Aircraft owners were highly critical of Sun ‘n Fun organizers for their handling of the storm’s destruction and aftermath, which involved removing damaged airplanes, often without the owner’s knowledge or consent, so that the show could open on time the following day. Owners were incensed when they started receiving cleanup bills from Sun ‘n Fun months after the show.
“While we deeply regret the devastation that occurred as a result of a storm we could not control, to pay for the entire bill would have caused undue hardship for our non-profit organization,” Leenshouts noted in the memo. “We are grateful to those individuals who carried an appropriate amount of insurance as well as those that paid from their own resources and to those who rallied together on the day of the storm to assist in restoring the site to a clean and safe environment for all to enjoy the following day.”
Sun ‘n Fun kicks off this year on March 27 and runs through April 1.