One of the best parts about working for KITPLANES is the opportunity I get to wander around a large show like Sun 'n Fun and talk with builders, pilots, and vendors about our industry, the show, and their impressions of what is going on. I have been to Sun 'n Fun the past three years, and while we have all been a bit worried about the level of focus on Experimentals and the state of the market, I can tell you that to me, this year seems to be better than I remember. While the Experimental world is far from being the focus of Sun 'n Fun, I have not seen a tremendous drop-off in attendance by the companies who support our industry and usually attend the big shows. A few have stopped doing Sun 'n Fun because of travel costs and a lower percentage of visitors from the Experimental world—but many are right where they have always been—and to my eye, they have remained busy.
As I walked the show today (Wednesday, the second day of the annual event), I found it hard to find folks at the kit company tents who weren't engaged in explaining products to potential customers. The same was true in the exhibit buildings at vendor booths for avionics, supplies, tools, and accessories. While I don't have precise numbers, it appeared to me that this year is about as busy as last—and that folks are serious about shopping. Whether this shopping will lead to purchases is open for debate, but I talked with several builders whose main interest for the week was to seal the deal on a new EFIS, kit, or engine.
As expected with the announcements from several EFIS suppliers of their new touch screens, it was hard to find sales and technical support personnel who weren't fully engaged in answering questions about these products. Potential buyers were sometimes lined up several bodies deep to eavesdrop on demonstrations and the questions of others. Kit salesmen were likewise swamped much of the time, and what I found unusual is that the crowds in the exhibit halls did not drop significantly with the start of the afternoon airshow—which tells me that many of the attendees are serious builders and pilots who are too busy shopping to watch the latest tumbling acro machines.
All of these observations give me hope for our industry, even though I can't tell for sure whether or not the interest will turn into sales. The fact that potential customers have traveled to the show already means that they are more than casual about their shopping—and we can only hope that the interest will lead to growth in the ranks of both builders and pilots. If you are on the fence about attending Sun 'n Fun 2014, and it is still possibly in your plans, I'd say that it might well be worth the trip. Besides, I hear there is more snow in the forecast for the north country—and Sun 'n Fun was designed as a springtime escape from the weather.