Airshows are big business.
Every year, hundreds of millions of people attend over 600 airshows globally, providing a vital economic boost for local communities.
It is little wonder that airshows attract such a massive audience – entertaining and family-friendly in nature, airshows offer a good value family day out, as well as appealing to aviation enthusiasts and photographers, often for a lower price than concerts, sports matches and other outdoor events.
The BADA estimate that the UK’s airshow industry contributes over £70m per year to the economy, but the Bournemouth Air Festival alone is estimated to contribute £30m to the local economy, with several others also reporting figures in the tens of millions. Airshows overall are the UK’s third best attended outdoor event. The effect is even bigger in the USA; in 2019, the Great Pacific Airshow in California broke records when it drew a crowd of up to three million over three days, and drew a profit for the local authorities funding and running the show. With hundreds of thousands flocking to small towns, market traders, hotels, restaurants and other businesses can recieve a vital boost without which it may not be possible to continue trading.
Airshows are about more than those who attend them. They are also about the socio-economic opportunities they gives to local communities.
Airshows fulfill a number of important functions for the armed forces, charities and society at large.
Airshows serve as an effective recruitment tool for the armed forces, aviation, and STEM industries more generally. A high proportion of Armed Forces personel report being inspired to serve by visiting airshows as a child – crucial at a time when many armed services are struggling to recuit. They also provide armed services with a vital link to their local communities, allowing people to better understand the work they do.
International airshows can also be an important political tool, allowing nations to showcase their aviation industry and serving as a meeting point for armed forces chiefs, aircraft companies and politicians. However, airshows also have more public-spirited goals; many donate large sums to charity, sometimes being a charity’s main source of income. The Royal International Air Tattoo, for example, has donated in excess of £1m annually to the RAF Charitable Trust.
Airshows also fulfill an educational role, bringing history to life through warbirds and re-enactions. The warbird scene today is more varied than ever, and without airshows many warbirds would likely cease flying, or at least, opportunities to see them would become more limited. Educating visitors about the past, present and future through engaging displays and commentary it one of the core purposes of the airshow industry globally.
Through supporting charities large and small, educating visitors, keeping historic aircraft in the air, aiding recuitment for the aviation industry – currently facing a major skills shortage – and allowing armed services to engage with their communities, airshows fulfill a number of key social, economic and political functions, affecting millions of people.
Airshows are public-spirited.
Airshows are safe.
Airshows are intended to be entertaining, but this does not come at the expense of safety. The safety of the crowd is always paramount, and an excellent safety record has been maintained in most countries.
Most developed countries have stringent regulations governing public flying displays, with the primary purpose of protecting aircrew and spectators. In the UK and the USA, for example, pilots must hold special qualifications to perform at airshows, which permit them to fly specific categories of aircraft, perform approved and evaulated manoeuvres, and fly no lower than a designated altitude. This is monitored during the show by an Air Boss or Flying Display Director, who has the power to halt the performance. Pilots must also abide by minimum seperation distances between themselves and the crowd, and additional rules often apply to manoeuvres were energy is directed towards the crowd.
Thanks to these reguations, airshows remain an extraordinarily safe activity. As of October 2019, there has not been a fatal accident at a UK public flying display for several years. With the exception of a much-publicised accident in 2015, the last time a member of the public was killed at a British airshow was in 1952; this was also the last time a spectator has been killed.
In 2019, there were only four fatal accidents globally out of over 600 airshows and countless more flypasts, parades, private events and other minor aerial displays.
On the rare occasion accidents do happen, they are much-publicised, often over many weeks. However, the risk to the public remains negligable thanks to the comprehensive safety regulations in place at most of the world’s airshows. These are being perpetually improved to further decrease risk and improve safety.