The CAA published a shocking, though not unexpected report on the 1st February( Dubbed “CAA 2016/17 Statutory Air Display and Low Flying Permission Charges Consultation”), outlining proposals to hike up airshow fees for both organisers and performers by 100%. It goes without saying that this is undoubtedly heavily affected by the Shoreham disaster of August 2015.
These changes don’t, to my mind, come across as particularly justified in terms of providing any changes or improvements in the safety of airshows in this country, save reducing the number of shows taking place. Not to wheel out the same old words that have been said countless times since the 22nd August but people are killed every day in motor racing, road traffic accidents and conflict, yet this one tragic event seems to be taking the UK airshow scene down a road from which I fear it may never recover.
Never since 1952 has a paying spectator been killed at a UK airshow, this record still remains the same, the safety regulations that are in place still did their job for those on the inside, though tragically could not protect those outside the airfield. Raising these fees does precisely nothing to help protect anyone at an airshow other than potentially bringing an end to the majority of shows in this country. In fact, if the solution is to raise admission prices, they will surely drive more spectators outside of the airfield, increasing the risk to all parties involved. This seems to me like a complete over-reaction to what was unquestionably a tragic accident.
I fear, as I’m sure many others do that not only will we see many of the UK’s small airshows disappear from the circuit but we may also see some much loved and very special display acts disappear from public view or even from the country completely due to rising operator costs.
Fee increases to cover the additional manpower that will be needed for show monitoring in 2016, I can understand, but not to the crippling extent these proposals suggest. I’m all for safety changes. If the AAIB and CAA review’s decide that changes need to be made in terms of the energy or distance of displays then that is understandable and represents a forward step towards moving on from the events of last year. Doubling all fees and adding additional “Exit” charges, will surely drive event organisers, pilots and operators away and is nothing but a very firm backward step.
This does seem to, in part, come across as an attempt to kill off UK airshows for fear of another accident. I’m not saying nothing needs to be done, of course regulations need to be changed and the restrictions on classic jet flying now pail into insignificance, but the regulatory review and AAIB investigation should be more than enough to ensure that airshows can continue on safely as they have for the majority of over 60 years.
Just as it was beginning to feel that perhaps the community was starting to recover and rebuild from the events of last season, with many exciting shows building on the horizon, it seems that it may all come to a grinding halt thanks to the CAA giving every reason for airshows to stop just when they should be helping them continue safely.
The timing of these proposals could not be worse, planning to implement these fees from 1st April, only a month ahead of the season starting, with the only warning coming now leaves no time for organisers to factor these costs in to their budgets. This will surely see acts being cut from display line-ups to balance the books, especially with most ticket prices already announced and tickets on sale.
We knew airshows could never remain the same after Shoreham, but this comes as a massive shock. An entire community is standing as one right now and I hope we can make sure that these changes never come into place, but if they do, then I feel we all best make the most of whatever 2016 may bring as it could well be the end of airshows in this country as we know and love them.
So please, make some noise about this problem, get the word out, tell anyone you can find. We have until the 29th February to let the CAA know exactly what we all think and how important airshows are. Let them know exactly what makes airshows so special, how they inspire young and old, bring joy to hundreds of thousands of people year after year. Surely the huge spectator numbers seen even in the wake of shoreham should tell the CAA all they need to know about how important these events are to the British public. I hope they think twice about making a decision in haste which could see something so important come to an untimely end.
To put things into perspective, I want to share a simple, yet nostalgic moment that came about in the aftermath of the Shoreham crash. While leaving the airfield having sat/wandered in disbelief and shock for a number of hours, my group was greeted by the poignant sight of a group of children being pushed around on “Ride-On” aircraft, many of them WW2 types. Watching the joy and excitement the experience was bringing to those children brought a light end to an incredibly dark day and you couldn’t help but smile.
That, more than anything I’ve said above is my point. I fear that, should these changes be actioned, those very same children may never get the chance to attend small, family airshows. there’s little room for touching moments such as that at big shows such as Farnborough and RIAT. The past decade or so has already seen plenty of small shows disappear from the circuit and it would be a real tragedy to see these special events lost. It doesn’t take much to realise that increased fees will eat in to the charity proceeds, which most of these shows are in aid of, so there will be little point to run the shows at all.
I’d hate to think that the children born today will grow up only able to watch old airshow videos, Battle of Britain and Top Gun to get any sort of feeling about what these aircraft and pilots can do.
I’ve attended airshows all my life and they have become incredibly important to me and many others over the years. They represent so much more than aircraft flying across the sky. They are the legacy of our veterans, the inspiration for children and an opportunity for communities to come together in the name of a good cause. They have raised so much money for charities over the years and brought joy to thousands.
It would be a very dark day if, just as this industry is showing signs of recovering and rebuilding, the CAA were to follow through with such a fatal blow to this varied and cherished community.
How You Can Help:
Spread the word!
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/120628 – Sign this petition asking the CAA to rethink their changes. At time of writing this document was already closing in on 10,000 signatures after only a few days.
http://publicapps.caa.co.uk/modalapplication.aspx?appid=58 – Reply to the consultation using this online form.
https://www.facebook.com/groups/KeepAirshowsAirborne/ – Join Keep Airshows Airborne on Twitter and Facebook and show your support.