Rockin’ the Runways

The passing of aviation’s glory days? Much has been said. Sure, people are now more fascinated with easier, trendier, more hedonistic things. So what’s a perennial air show to do after a 2011 performer fatality and subsequently cancelled air shows? The answer: Rock and Roll!

“Give ‘em what they want,” the adage goes. For many, it’s music and good times. Nothing wrong with that. To re-vitalize its annual spring air show, Flagler County Airport in northeastern Florida based a renewed April 25-26 event on rock concerts.

For staging and promotion of Wings Over Flagler Rockin’ The Runways, they partnered with a local radio entrepreneur and his four diverse outlets (KIX Country 98.7, WNZF News Radio, Beach 92.7 and Easy Oldies 100.9.) Talk about marketing power and community-wide reach!

Rockin2Bills Mills, owner of Flagler-based Blue Sky Yakrobatics, was behind the idea. His contacts in the air show biz assured lots of display aircraft and fly-bys. Airport Manager Roy Sieger took care of airport and aviation logistics. But it was radio station manager Dave Ayers who sparked a connection with the public and potential sponsors. “Hey, we do concerts, we do local merchants and vendors,” he said, “let’s partner!”

Ayers delivered. The flight line was chock-a-block with local businesses from small vendors to major car dealerships. Some 25 sponsors bought packages at $5,000 to $25,000. (Sponsorships for aviation business were just $500.) All bought in to a powerful county-wide event backed by extensive pre-show publicity.

One nifty promotion I’d never seen: New car test drives on the (non-active) runway. Talk about a come-on! Show-goers got a rare experience, locals got a close-up view of their airport, and car dealers logged a memorable product demo. It was a brilliant, meaningful attraction at no cost to the show.

On-stage, music was non-stop. Big draws were highly promoted Friday and Saturday night “tribute concerts” by knock-offs of The Eagles and Billy Joel. “From 20 feet and two beers, it *IS* Billy Joel,” Ayers joked to the press. Fireworks further enlivened Saturday night.

Although there was no aerobatic program (promoters said there was “not enough time to get FAA waivers,”) there were lots of fly-bys. Mills got plenty of interesting planes and pilots there in tribute to “Wild Bill” Walker, who died during the Red Thunder Air Show Team’s 2011 performance. Even without the stunts, there was plenty of flying. One hot ticket: Rides in a big 1929 New Standard biplane.

Rockin1Since the event was staged by Mills’ non-profit foundation, a $10,000 tourism development grant could be tapped for working capital. This was especially appropriate since the event was a direct replacement for radioman Dave Ayers’ “Rock ‘n Ribfest” — a popular annual BBQ extravaganza cancelled on short notice by another venue.

Local radio and its aggressive, talented promoter got this air show re-launched after a big downer. And Flagler County Airport made its point.

Showman Dave Ayers told local media, “It draws attention to the airport, (that) it’s a good economic engine for the county. (Then) someone could (notice), ‘You know, this is a good place to start a business.’”

Is there such a powerhouse marketing resource in your area?

Taking the beach road home around dinner hour Saturday night, I was thrilled to see a stunning Yellow N2S Stearman flash by downtown Flagler Beach over the surf. He came back low over the ocean, trailing show smoke for the dinner crowd.

Clearly, something special was going on at the airport — as it can elsewhere when local supporters use “What the People Want” to pitch our love of flying.


© 2014 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved 


  1. Doyle Frost says

    At last, something to actually draw in the young, old, and all in between, to a local airport. Sounds as if they have a good, solid, well rounded Aviation Airport Advisory Committee, unlike where I live, comprised of nothing but politicians, and the “upper crust” of the local community. This bunch thinks “flying is for nothing but business and commercial enterprise, not true General Aviation.”

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