Tempers are flaring after organizers of the Sun ‘n Fun show in Lakeland, Florida, recently sent invoices to 25 aircraft owners demanding they cover the costs associated with the clean up of airplanes damaged by a tornado that ripped through the fly-in grounds last March 31.
Sun ‘n Fun spokesman Jim Bernegger told Flying the organization has sent bills totaling $90,000 to aircraft owners and exhibitors to recoup costs not covered by Sun n’ Fun’s own insurance. Of those, three individuals have responded so far, with two submitting claims to their insurance companies and a third disputing the invoiced amount, Bernegger said. He added that Sun ‘n Fun could be out of pocket more than $200,000 for insurance deductibles and other tornado-related damages not covered by its insurance.
One aircraft owner whose RV-6 was damaged during the storm said he received a bill from show organizers for $2,568.33 for the cost of an environmental cleanup company to remove his airplane from the show grounds in time for Sun ‘n Fun to reopen the next morning. He complained that he wasn’t allowed to recover his aircraft on his own and called the charge excessive. “I had made arrangements to move the wreck of my airplane to a friend's hangar on the field the next morning,” the RV-6 owner wrote on the vansairforce.net message board. “When I got to the airport, my airplane was gone. None of this was done with my permission. I could have moved the airplane at zero cost.”
Bernegger said he understands the frustration some aircraft owners feel over the situation, but stressed that the organization had no choice but to hire an environmental specialist to clean up the site. “We were operating a quasi-disaster area after the tornado,” he said. “Just like individuals aren’t allowed to recover their own cars after a serious crash on the highway, we could not allow individuals to come in and remove aircraft on their own.”
The main motivation for the quick cleanup, he said, was to allow Sun n’ Fun to reopen the next morning. “The show is the main source of revenue for this non-profit organization,” he said.
Sun 'n Fun exhibitor AirCam said it was surprised to receive a bill for $1,304.35 for the cleanup costs of its airplanes. AirCam president George Weber said that immediately after the tornado, the company informed Sun ‘n Fun organizers that the company would handle its own cleanup. He said 15 workers were recruited to remove damaged AirCams from its exhibit area and that at no time did any environmental company hired by Sun 'n Fun assist. “I called and raised hell but have not heard from [Sun ‘n Fun officials] since,” Weber said.
Aviation Internet message boards have been buzzing with discussion about the invoices, with many criticizing the show for levying excessive charges and putting profits first. “I get the feeling that some local environmental cleanup company made out pretty well at the expense of several insurance companies and/or airplane owners,” wrote a member on the vansairforce.net forum.
Asked how Sun ‘n Fun would respond to aircraft owners who refuse to pay the bills, Bernegger said those situations will be dealt with on a “case-by-case basis.”