Florida Restaurant & Lodging keeps Lakeland show in the air

By: The Orlando Business Journal, April 3, 2013

The air show in Lakeland will go on.

The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, the city of Lakeland, Visit Central Florida and Lakeland Linder Regional Airport have agreed to help Sun ’n Fun Fly-in Inc. cover a $284,500 tab for having about 70 Federal Aviation Administration workers manage flight operations for the six-day event. The Lakeland event is one of the largest air shows in the U.S. and contributes $64 million to the region’s economy.

The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association is paying $125,000 to be a presenting sponsor for the 39th annual event, some of which is intended to help pay for the cost of the air traffic controllers.

Because of federal budget cuts known as sequestration, the FAA told Lakeland Linder it couldn’t pay for the air traffic controllers during the event, Eugene B. Conrad III, director of the airport, told me.

Organizers then began reaching out to the lodging and tourism industry to help cover the cost of the air traffic control bill, and the organization will still likely pay about $80,000 to cover the costs, Conrad said.

Lakeland is one of 14 airports statewide slated to lose its FAA funding for its tower.

Lakeland Linder is paying the $35,000 a month to keep the tower operating when the airport loses its FAA funding April 21. The tower will operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It would have cost the airport $55,000 a month to keep its current operations from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Conrad said Lakeland and the 13 other Florida airports losing FAA funding are appealing to the Florida Department of Transportation and Florida House and Senate members to help cover the costs of keeping air traffic controllers at their airports. The Lakeland airport has a $170 million impact on the region, according to Conrad.

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