Sun 'n Fun returns to the skies over Lakeland after last year's cancellation

After being canceled last year because of COVID-19, the Sun 'n Fun Aerospace Expo is being reborn. The fly-in returns next week at Lakeland Linder International Airport.

"I think it is super," offered Dave Smith, a volunteer from Orlando who is already camping on the grounds. "It is just a great place to be this time of year."

Last April, the event was called off at the eleventh hour as the pandemic spread.

"We were disappointed but we were prepared because we knew how serious it could be," said Smith’s wife, Pat.

The event being called off put Sun 'n Fun in a precarious situation financially. Eighty percent of its budget comes from that one event. The money pays for teens to learn to fly and prepares them for careers in aviation and aerospace.

Greg Gibson, a spokesman for the non-profit organization, says the result of not holding the fly-in was "disastrous" as the group's emergency fund almost completely evaporated.

Aircraft of all kinds are on display at Sun 'n Fun (FOX 13 / file)

Two fundraising events during the year -- an air and space online expo, and a holiday fly-in and car show -- helped keep the organization going. So did COVID-19 relief money from Washington D.C.

But it still is far behind what it was pre-pandemic.

There is great hope that this year the fly-in may help the group build up a financial cushion again. Ticket sales are up almost 30%.

"It will definitely take a while for us to get back on our feet," Gibson said. He expects that to happen, if all goes well, by next summer.

LINK: For information about the 2021 fly-in, visit Sun 'n Fun's website.