By JOHN CUDAHY
After three years of sequestration-induced instability and uncertainty, the North American air show business appears poised to make a full recovery in 2016.
Although there have been a number of early shows throughout the U.S. already this year, SUN ’N FUN once again serves as the unofficial kick-off for this year’s air show season in the United States and Canada.
General aviation has no better promotional tool than the hundreds of air shows held in every state in the Union and most of Canada’s provinces. As we enter the busiest part of the air show season, the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) offers these little-known air show facts to pilots and other aviation advocates:
Many people will receive their only exposure to general aviation when they attend an air show at their local airport this year. In 2016, ICAS expects between 10.5 million and 12 million Americans to attend air shows. For most of them, the only regular exposure they have to aviation comes through airline travel. Air shows serve as an invaluable tool to introduce them to the many other dimensions of aviation in this country.
Two in five air show spectators express an interest in taking flying lessons. Industry research has consistently demonstrated that air shows are not just world-class aerial entertainment; they are also a highly effective tool in encouraging aviation enthusiasts to consider the possibility of becoming pilots themselves.
With more than 300 air shows scheduled in North America this year, more than 85% of the U.S. population can attend an air show that is within 60 miles of their homes this year. From Anchorage to Key West, from Oshkosh to Temple, Texas, and from San Diego to Owl’s Head, Maine, the air show community will conduct shows of all shapes, sizes and themes between now and mid-November. (For dates and information about this year’s air show schedule, visit the ICAS website at Airshows.aero.)
Air shows are affordable. More than two in five (42%) of U.S. air shows scheduled for 2016 will have free admission. And, for those that do charge an admission fee, the average price for a ticket will be $21.44 in 2016, with most shows offering discounted or free admission to children and discounts for pre-show or online ticket purchase.
Compare that to the average ticket price for a Disney theme park ($96), a professional basketball game ($54), or a Taylor Swift concert ($112). And most shows — 68.4% — don’t charge a parking fee.
North American air shows have an unparalleled spectator safety record. There has not been a spectator fatality at a North American air show since 1951. The program of safety measures in place at U.S. and Canadian air shows has been extraordinarily effective for 65 years.
The accident rate among air show performers has been steadily decreasing for the last 25 years. Safety initiatives developed jointly by federal regulators and industry have reduced the fatal accident rate by nearly 70% since 1988. Although television news coverage would suggest otherwise, there are accidents at less than 1% of air shows in North America each year.
Despite the huge attendance at air shows throughout North America each year, more than two thirds (68%) of the general public is unfamiliar with air shows and less than one in 10 (8%) have plans to attend an air show this year.
For those of us working to introduce aviation to a larger segment of the general public, these air shows represent a unique opportunity to educate and inform the public while also providing them with safe, affordable, world-class aerial entertainment.
As the air show community enters its second century of providing Americans with unique and exciting aerial entertainment, consider encouraging your non-aviation friends and family to attend one of these events in 2016.
Statistics suggest that not only will they enjoy themselves, they’ll come away with a better understanding of your passion for aviation.
John Cudahy is president/CEO of the International Council of Air Shows.