Numbers Are "Way, Way Up" Even During Time Of Recession
With five months completed and roughly two months remaining in
the 2009 North American air show season, the news regarding air
show attendance is a stark contrast to what other industries are
experiencing amid a recession of historic proportions. The air show
industry will see record attendance during the 2009 season. In
fact, the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) now projects
that 2009 attendance in the United States will be up 20 percent or
more compared with 2008.
"At an air show, there are any number of variables that can
impact a given day's attendance such as weather and competing
events in the same community," said John Cudahy, ICAS president.
"So it would be disingenuous for me to say that every show we've
heard from has experienced record attendance; however we've yet to
hear from even a single air show with lower attendance than they
had expected and nearly all of our events are reporting that they
are way up as compared to the last time they held the show. Most
are reporting record attendance. And in the few cases where
attendance has been down, it has been a marginal decrease and there
always is an explanation like poor weather or some other
Crowd At Oshkosh 2009
Indeed, the attendance surge that air shows have experienced in
2009 - on top of an attendance jump of 12-15 percent the industry
saw in 2008 compared with 2007 - has brought an industry that just
two years ago estimated overall North American attendance at 10 to
12 million to the 14 to 16 million range.
John Haak has particular insight into the air show attendance
surge as motorsports market manager for Extremetix, an online
ticketing agency with dozens of air shows as clients. "The
attendance is way, way up," he said. "I'd be willing to say 17 to
20 percent. Some shows are higher than that; some shows are lower
than that, but collectively we're heading for record attendance. At
this point, there can be no doubt about that."
What's most remarkable is that the growth is taking place as
other entertainment- and sports-related industries have suffered
through substantial attendance decreases:
- Theme-park attendance is down substantially - down 10% at
Universal parks, 13% at Cedar Fair Parks, and 8% at Six Flags'
parks, according to Theme Park News.
- Major League Baseball attendance is down 6% according to
- And while exact figures are not available for NASCAR, consensus
observation is that attendance is down considerably compared with
What makes air shows particularly attractive to spectators is
not simply the low cost of tickets, but also the fact that they're
local and they provide a level of excitement that is inversely
proportional to their costs. "When you're talking about taking a
family of four to an air show, you're talking about a total cost of
well under $100," said Cudahy who indicated that average ticket
prices are in the $10 to $12 range with lower prices for children
and some shows that have free admission. "While the low
prices certainly explain part of the rise in attendance, the rest
of the story is about the quality of the product you get at such a
low price. Kids are never going to forget watching the (U.S. Navy)
Blue Angels or the (U.S. Air Force) Thunderbirds roar past at 650
miles per hour, seeing U.S. Army parachutists from the elite Golden
Knights parachute demonstration team drop from the sky, or
witnessing the performances of the top aerobatic pilots in the
world and getting to shake their hands afterward."
Watching The Show At Florida's Cecil
With attendance up nearly across the board, the anecdotal
reports have been even more impressive than the statistics on
"We had the largest show we've had since I've been involved,
which is since 1999," said Rebecca March, Manager of the NAS
Patuxent River Air Show, held May 23-24 in Maryland. "We had more
than a 10 percent increase over 2008. We expected a good turnout,
but this many people was a very pleasant surprise."
"With total attendance in excess of 70,000, this was our
largest show in the 18-year history of the event," said Colonel
Larry Gallogly with the Rhode Island National Guard Air Show in
North Kingstown, Rhode Island on June 27 and 28. "We used every
parking spot available to us and put more spectators on the ramp
than we ever have before."
"It was the largest attendance in our 29-year history," said
Fred Buckingham, chairman of the Florida International Show, held
March 21-22 in Punta Gorda. Buckingham estimated 2009 attendance at
65,000, a substantial increase of more than 18 percent over the
previous record of 55,000.
"I would say the attendance was more than double at this Hemet
Air Show from the last time they had a show two years ago," said
Susan Newman of Harrison Air Shows, an air show performance team.
"Same goes for the Chino Airshow, which was two weekends before.
When we took our golf cart from the pit to the VIP tent, it was
nearly elbow-to-elbow and we barely could get through and that was
the case at both shows."
"We expected between 32,000 and 34,000 spectators for the entire
weekend," said Major Doug Bodine, director of the Ellsworth Air
Force Base Air Show near Rapid City, South Dakota, held May
30-31. "We had more than that by the end of Saturday and
finished the show on Sunday with total attendance of
51,200…our largest air show ever."
Between early April and mid-November, as many as 16 million
spectators will attend more than 400 air shows from San Diego to
New York City to British Columbia to Miami.