Jetting to Jersey
Gary Parsons soaks up the sun in St Aubin's Bay
A few years ago, the suggestion of 'doing' the Jersey Airshow would have been met with howls of laughter and the recommendation to get one's bumps felt - it wasn't just the difficulty and expense of getting to the small jewel of an island just a few miles off the French mainland, but also the fact that the 'show' was just a couple of hours duration with a handful of acts. Times have changed though, now Jersey has an airshow line-up to rival many other premier mainland events and the advent of lo-cost airlines means it is neither difficult nor expensive to do it in a day.
Jersey's attractions are well known to many, not least your scribe, who spent his honeymoon there several years ago. It's always a pleasure to visit its sun-kissed shores, regardless of the purpose of the journey, and with just a forty-minute flight from Coventry Airport one can be there at eight o'clock in the morning leaving a full day in which to explore the tiny island, if the airshow isn't your thing (but then why would you be reading this!).
Established in the early fifties to raise funds for the RAFA (Jersey) Branch, Jersey's airshow takes place over St Aubin's Bay, just a few hundred yards from downtown St Helier and the main harbour. Having a captive audience, in the past the airshow provided the islanders with a flavour of the RAF's inventory but today is aimed at promoting Jersey and attracting visitors to the island in the post-school holiday season. It seems to be succeeding, as this year all hotels were fully booked for the week and the Jersey Tourist board was genuinely excited at the level of interest, now eclipsing some much older traditional Jersey events.
As it's a free airshow, it relies entirely on volunteers and could not survive without substantial sponsors, many of who are wealthy Jersey residents. Jersey Tourism is also heavily committed to the airshow, promoting the week and arranging accommodation for the participating aircrew.
Today's larger event has evolved from the enthusiasm and energy of its Director Mike Higgins, who encouraged the display committee some eight years ago to expand from its two-hour format to a full-blown five-hour event featuring acts not normally seen elsewhere in the UK. Operating from the Airport's Aero Club, the organisation (Jersey International Air Display a.r.l.) has no full-time staff and Mike and his team make the airshow happen in their spare time - no mean feat when dealing with the MoD and other foreign nation air attaches! Display co-ordinator is none other than Les Garside-Beattie, recently retired as Station Commander of RAF Valley and former Red Arrows Team Manager.
A small static park at the airport is open to visitors early morning and late evening for a small charge, where all the participating aircraft can be viewed plus a few visitors not involved in the flying programme, such as the German Navy Atlantic this year. It's then a couple of miles to the main display arena set two hundred metres offshore, with Elizabeth Castle making a unique and picturesque backdrop like no other airshow.
As with most seafront airshows the promenade acts as the crowdline, with trade stalls and other attractions arranged along the avenue, which is closed to traffic for the afternoon. A sizeable crowd, estimated at 50,000, gathered in the sunshine and was joined offshore by a flotilla of private yachts and small boats looking for the best seat in the house. Jersey's opulence brings a Monaco Grand Prix flair to the airshow, with champers flowing freely and skimpy bikinis prevalent in the Mediterranean-like weather experienced this year - they tell me it's not always so warm, but this year the distractions weren't all aeroplane-shaped...
Highlight of the air display was the Dornier Do24's water-landing in the bay, bang on high water mid-afternoon. It's the first time that the big silver bird has appeared in the UK, and probably the only chance it'll have to touch down on British waters in the foreseeable future.
Jersey is now a viable option for the regular airshow visitor and provides an ambience unmatched by anywhere else on the UK mainland. In less than an hour you can be in this island paradise for the day - sun, sea, sand and aeroplanes - what more could you want?