Monday, April 29, 2013

Sequester and Airshows

We recently learned that the Blue Angels, the USAF Thunderbirds, the Golden Knights and all the Military Demo Teams have cancelled their entire Airshow season due to the Sequester. The Military will not take part in Airshows in any way – not static displays, not flying, nothing.  This information has sent the Airshow Industry back to their drawing boards to see how they can move on from here.

The Military Demonstration Teams are an enormous draw for these events.  Military Teams can increase attendance by up to 30% while bringing many attendees from long distances which increase tourism for their cities.  The draw for the communities is estimated to be a minimum of $2M in tourism, hotels, restaurants, etc.

John Cudahy, President of the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) has said, "If the military does not participate in Airshows during the 2013 season, the economic impact will reach far beyond the show itself and deeply into the communities in which those shows are held.”

We can point to what Fleet Week is like in San Francisco with the Blue Angels. The entire town (except for the haters) comes out for the waterside party. The streets are crowded, the hotels and restaurants are full – and now… it’s also cancelled.

Christine Falvey, spokeswoman for San Francisco’s Mayor Ed Lee, said last month, Fleet Week attracts over 1 million spectators and its loss could have a major economic impact on San Francisco.

Those are the hard numbers, but let’s look at the less tangible impact. The original mission of these teams was always based in recruiting. However, this mission has grown to include a sense of National Pride. During these amazing performances, most people feel a sense of Patriotism. There is rarely a dry eye in the house while watching an impressive fly- over at an athletic event – chests swelling with pride for our country during our National Anthem.

What does that mean to the local Airshows?

In a recent poll taken by AVWeb, an internet aviation news service, only 7 percent of the respondents said, No Jet Teams, No Attendance. The rest were more positive, 54% saying they would attend with or without the teams, 24% said it would dependent on the quality of the rest of the show. So, nearly 80% are willing to go to a show, if we make it creative, interesting and exciting enough without the jets.  

Some Airshows decided to just cancel the event this year and either revamp or hope for better times in 2014. Other shows have gotten out their thinking caps and decided to use creativity to bring the crowds back this year.

Deb Mitchell was the Director of Marketing for AirshowBuzz and is now the Managing Partner of Latitude 31. She said, “There will be shows that rise to the challenge and press forward with modifications. Then there will be those who say it's impossible to make money without a jet team. My money is on the shows that reduce their spending, increase sponsorship and design creative marketing plans to lure people to an incredible family event.”  

She continued by saying, “The way forward is not easy but it's exciting to be able to re-invent your act or your show possibly attracting an entirely new audience.”  

What does this all mean to your favorite Civilian Airshow Performers?

Civilian Airshow Performers can be categorized into three distinct groups. The first group would be the highly sponsored acts such as Sean D. Tucker sponsored by Oracle and others, Kirby Chambliss flying for Red Bull and Michael Goulian for Goodyear Aviation, to name a few. This group has a contract with their sponsors that can include what Airshows and Events they need to fly as well as other Corporate Activities. They will likely not be impacted too badly this year, but if this austerity program continues, we may see a fall in sponsorship of these types of acts in the future.

Performers who have a full time job and fly airshows on weekends are in the next group. Many of the members of this group fly for an airline, which allows them additional flexibility – but there are also 9-5’ers who fly a desk Monday – Friday and then pack up and head out to their local show. Again, this group will survive this year – but their future may be in jeopardy also.

The final group consists of Performers who live day in and day out on their Airshow jobs. This group will be heavily impacted.  In speaking with several of the Performers, some have seen 30-50% of their shows cancelled for this year. This could be devastating to Performers in all groups.

How can Performers become more creative to expand their show base? In speaking with Skip Stewart, he mentioned expanding his geographical footprint. This year alone, Skip will fly in 6 different countries including many locations in Latin America and the Caribbean.  He will be joined by Kyle Franklin at their first show ever in California (Minter Field, May 11-12). While this means being away from home for longer periods of time, he feels it is worth it to bring his style of flying to more people. I applaud his creativity and his tenacity.

What should Airshows do to survive?

As Debbie Mitchell mentioned, creativity, marketing and sponsorship will be keystones in the future.

Darcy Brewer, Executive Director at California Capital Airshow, agrees and takes it further.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom…not even federal budget restrictions will stop the 2013 California Capital Airshow from performing for the loyal and eager fans of the Sacramento region (and far beyond) this October 5-6 at Mather Airport.

We realize these are both exciting and challenging times for the air show industry.  It’s the ideal time for the industry as a whole to re-invent itself, be creative, roll up its sleeves, and remember why we produce these special events in the first place

·         to honor our veterans and heroes by sharing their stories and experiences
·         to inspire and educate our young people with any amazing asset we can share
·         to passionately share a century of aviation history and American ingenuity with our treasured guests

I encourage everyone to please take a weekend drive with your family this summer and support an industry that needs you by attending an airshow or two.  By doing so, you will show these dedicated teams and their armies of volunteers how much you appreciate their tireless commitment regardless of what’s going on in Washington.

Thank you, Darcy. I couldn't have said it better myself. So, I’ll let her words finish off this column.  
Hopefully, I’ll see all of you at an Airshow or two this season.  

Marilyn Dash
Pylon Place 
Ruby Red Racing

Special thanks to Bruce Croft for his excellent photography. These pictures were taken at Airshows around the country and are meant to show the importance of Airshows to our next generation.