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Who'd be an airshow organiser?

Mick Britton talks to Ken Cothliff, Event Director of the Yorkshire Air Show about its recent problems, typical of the airshow industry. Pictures by the author and Gary Parsons

MB: "From the crowd's perspective, the 2007 Yorkshire Airshow appeared to be the organiser's worst nightmare, particularly when on the Sunday afternoon the commentator admitted to not knowing what the next item was going to be. Was this really the case?"

Ken Cothliff: "The main problem was the weather further south on the Saturday - it precluded several of the booked display items from arriving. Those aircraft that came up on the Friday made it, but on Saturday morning a bad weather belt stopped others. It should be realised that all vintage aircraft operating under a 'Permit to Fly' can only fly under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions - that includes jets! We had to do a lot of 'juggling' of the display items, especially those who needed to depart before the weather worsened on the Sunday - hence the perceived lack of input to the commentary team. They knew, but were not in a position to give negative news to our patrons."

Elvington's era

MB: "Your excellent website gave updates on the programme until just a few days before the show, so anyone who hit it knew not to expect the Vulcan, but at the airshow omissions rapidly mounted .Can you explain the reasons for these, particularly in relation to star items like the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and B-17G 'Sally B', the loss of which was disappointing for many people?"

KC: "The BBMF was allocated for Saturday only. The Dakota went 'tech', so they allocated the Lancaster, but bad weather at Coningsby prevented it from arriving. 'Sally B' was grounded at Duxford due to the concrete runway being closed, and the grass runway was waterlogged and unsafe for such a big aircraft after a major rainstorm on the Friday night. Also the VFR rule applied! It was their only booking in August, and the B-17 team was very disappointed."

MB: "I thought that you managed to cover the omissions fairly well on the Saturday, but with obvious difficulty on the Sunday. Can you describe how you still managed to provide a three and a half hour display each day?"

KC: "By creative planning and a flexible operation by our experienced team - other airshows failed to give their customers a full show in 2007."

MB: "Although there is no doubt that some performers let you down, for various reasons, it was noticeable that others put in extra efforts, some flying twice. Are there any in particular whose efforts deserve special mention?"

KC: "Yes, Andy Thorne and Jonathan Whaley in the Hunters, and the Red Arrows for giving us extra time on the Saturday. Also OC RAF Coningsby and the BBMF for sending the Mk 19 Spitfire in very difficult conditions."

MB: "Is it true that problems with insurance deprived you of the Buccaneer ground run, your usual static display of YAM airframes and even threatened the traditional opening item of the Victor ground run?"

KC: "Yes - suffice to say I was very disappointed. The weather alone stopped Tony Agar from bringing the Mosquito - it is his property, not the museum's. The Victor team pulled out all the stops for us, but the extra cost involved will give us cause for thought in future years."

MB: "Just how difficult is it to put together a credible flying programme these days, given the marked reduction in RAF participation?"

KC: "It is difficult and more expensive - a matter to be taken up by the airshow industry and the military. How much extra are the public prepared to pay?"

MB: "I noticed that you managed to obtain some international participation for the second year running. How important do you consider this to be for the profile of the airshow and how hard is to arrange?"

KC: "This is very important - over the past years, not just two years, we have had Canadian (twice), French (three times), Dutch (twice) and USAF (a C-130 once!) participation. NATO countries respond to displays by RAF aircraft in their homeland - I understand we lost the Dutch F-16 as the RAF failed to display in the Netherlands in 2007."

MB: "The Yorkshire Airshow is an independent airshow and doesn't enjoy particular military sponsorship on the scale of the old SSAFA shows, and lavish municipal sponsorship like today's seafront shows is now something of a rarity. How does it survive and for how much longer can we expect it to?"

KC: "We are taking a 'year out' in 2008 for work to be carried out on the airfield, and to re-appraise the situation and try and get some financial sponsorship. There will be something on that third weekend in August, but it won't be the same scale - we plan to be back with a big show in 2009!"

MB: "If there was just one thing that you could change that would bring the maximum benefit to the airshow industry what would it be?"

KC: "Communication and mutual agreements between airshow organisers and Directors, possibly through the auspices of the Air Display Association, to stop the consistent clash of dates - in 2008 four major airshows, 'Legends', RIAT, Waddington and Yeovilton all on consecutive weekends - ridiculous!"

MB: "We almost got through an accident-free airshow season until the last weekend at Shoreham, unfortunately costing the life of Brian Brown who was a mutual acquaintance. Do you think this will have any repercussions for next year's airshows?"

KC: "Yes, depending on the AAIB report and conclusions - I see ramifications to 'tail-chase' and 'mock dogfight' display routines, and adjustments to CAA Display Authorisations. My personal opinion is they can be dangerous at low level, and it's rather unnecessary to display these wonderful vintage aircraft we are blessed with here in the UK. Brian will be sorely missed, especially by his colleagues at Breighton."


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