From the U.S. to the UAE, Australia to England, China to Germany, and everywhere in between, airshows are an essential artery to the beating heart of the aviation industry. It all began in the summer of 1909, near the city of Rheims when France held the first international air meet, called the Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne. With the industrial revolution well underway, countries were competing for mastery of the latest symbol of national strength and advancement, flight. The Rheims air meet was extraordinarily well received with an estimated audience of 500,000 people eager to see firsthand demonstrations of aeronautical aptitude. The seven day meet was full of exhibitions and competitions in speed and altitude, all a prelude to the marquee event, the first annual Gordon Bennett International Aviation Cup race. This race gave attendees the opportunity to root for their country’s pilot in a 20 km contest of speed. In the end Glenn Curtis, representing the Aero Club of America, would emerge victorious and make history for himself and the United States through his accomplishment. By the end of this first international meet, it was clear that airshows were destined for great success in the world of sporting events. Following Rheims, the Los Angeles airshow was held in January of 1910, and drew an estimated 175,000 attendees. Aviators and promoters alike were fast to capitalize on the public’s interest in airshows by regularly staging stunts and competitions. In the decades that followed, airshows became a dynamic source of entertainment for the public, a platform for nations to demonstrate their military strength, an opportunity for pilots to exercise skills and equipment following WWI, and a significant monetary boost for the host economies.
Today, airshows are among the top sporting events in the world attracting tens of millions of attendees to the 400 plus events across the globe. Military demonstrations have proven to be some of the most successful events in North America with the United States Navy’s Blue Angels reporting that annual attendance at their demonstrations exceeds 11 million with over 50,000 attendees per demonstration.
Modern airshows, like those of the past, provide an opportunity for military recruitment and support through demonstrations of skill and technological advancements. However, in addition to the spectator component, today’s airshows have evolved into multifaceted events by providing aircraft manufacturers and suppliers the perfect venue to advance their brands, demonstrate progress and acquire new business. Reuters reported that within the first day of the 2018 Farnborough International Airshow (FIA18), Boeing won an order for 14 freight aircraft valued at $4.7 billion from the logistics company DHL. Airways Magazine reported that by the end of the event Boeing sold a total of 673 units, followed by Airbus with 431, Embraer with 300 and COMAC with 20 orders for the ARJ21. These numbers, while impressive, are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of overall sales and/or orders placed at FIA18, which is just one of the hundreds of airshows that will be held in 2018.
While the numbers surrounding attendance and orders placed at airshows are impressive, the benefits don’t stop there; in fact, the positive impact of airshows extends well beyond the aviation industry. Airshows also provide a monetary infusion to host economies which boosts the cities, counties and many businesses in the surrounding area. Beginning with the very first airshows for which basic structures such as roads, grandstands and stages were assembled and supporting businesses such as restaurants hotels, and barbershops were constructed to meet the needs of the impending crowds. The immediate impact was through construction resulting in short-term labor jobs, while the lasting impact was through the creation of commerce and a hub of social interaction, thereby creating long-term jobs. Today, airshows pump millions of dollars into host cities through everything from ticket sales, concessions and lodging to car rentals, dining and souvenirs. A 2009 study examining the Economic Impact and Market Analysis of a Special Event focused on the Great New England Airshow (GNEA) by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, found that the overall economic impact from the 2008 GNEA was $13.5 million. Further, the EAA estimates that the 2018 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh Airshow brought $170 million to the five counties in the surrounding Oshkosh region over the course of the event.
So, the next time you make plans to get your #AvGeek on, know that in addition to supporting an extraordinary industry, you are supporting local businesses and economies and becoming a part of history all while enjoying the excitement and wonder that is aviation!