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Tue, May 16, 2017

Rockford, IL AirFest 'Suspended Indefinitely'

Organizers Said The Event Causes A Hardship For Airport Businesses

The organizers of the Rockford AirFest have suspended the event indefinitely because it essentially had gotten too popular, according to media reports.

The online news site mystateline.com reports that the event had been cancelled in 2016 due to a conflict with another event, but was reportedly back on for June 3-4, 2017. The Blue Angels had been confirmed as the headline act for the air show.

But Chicago/Rockford International Airport (KRFD) executive director Mike Dunn sent out news release via email in December saying that the event had been suspended "indefinitely" ... in part because "The traffic congestion incurred by AirFest would put a heavy burden on the operations of new businesses on the airport. Our priority is to our customers and tenants that use RFD," The release on the airport's website specifically mentioned the new AAR MRO project, the Terminal Building expansion, and the ABX Air cargo operation.

But an investigation conducted by the area's "Eyewitness News" ... made up of television stations WTVO and WQRF, found that none of the businesses cited had expressed any concern about the airshow, and that AAR had been a sponsor of the 2015 AirFest, and sponsors air shows at other airports such as Duluth, MN. The terminal expansion is not anywhere near the air show grounds, and would not be affected by the event, the investigation found.

Also curious was that there seems to be no record of any discussion of the cancellation at a public meeting  of the 7-member airport board. The cancellation never appeared on an agenda, and it was never put to a vote of the board. A Freedom of Information Act request made by the stations for any emails to or from Dunn related to the cancellation of AirFest turned up no discussion of the move with any board member. Most of the emails were directed to the airport's PR firm asking how to best "bury" the news that the event was being cancelled.

Airport board chair Paul Cicero, an attorney, said that the cancellation was discussed at public meetings with proper notice. But there is no mention of the discussion in meeting minutes. Cicero said that the decision was not made unilaterally by the airport administration, but was rather "a decision by the board of the airport."

He said that as he understands procedure, the board "does not have to vote to not spend money," explaining why there was no vote on cancelling the event. 

Cicero said that AirFest had done its job as a recruiting tool to attract business to the airport, and now that several successful businesses have been attracted to the location, the show had become irrelevant. "We are not an entertainment venue," he said in the interview.

FMI: Original Report 

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