The sad events that took place at Shoreham over the weekend have thrust the airshow circuit into the spotlight once again. First of all I would like to offer my condolences to all those effected and a speedy recovery to Andy, who, contradictory to reports, is a highly thought-off and experience pilot, who does not deserve some of the nasty comments that I have seen posted about him. Until the report is concluded and the facts made public, such comments like those I have read should not be said. At the end of the day, Andy stayed with his plane until the very end. If Andy had 'done it on purpose' as some people have wrote (shocking I know), he would have bailed out and saved himself the second he knew it was going to crash. Instead, Andy risked his life to stay with the plane to try to crash land it in safety. Unfortunately, this just didn't happen. Some people have called for airshows to be banned or moved to secluded areas only - does this mean airshows could become a thing of the past? No... and I will tell you why.
This terrible accident has rocked and saddened people around the world. But it was just that - an accident. Accidents happen on a daily basis, some not as serious as this, but ultimately they just happen. There are less airshow accidents now than in any other decade and that is partly due to the safety measures that are in place. In fact, in my lifetime I have seen far more aviation accidents with airliners taking people on holidays than accidents in the airshow circuit and yet people still choose to go on holiday. You are far more likely to die in a car or train crash than by a plane at an airshow. The Shoreham crash unfortunately was a freak accident and one which has caused mass panic.
Airshows are organised by experienced people, who take the safety of everyone involved very seriously. Pilots have to have a flying display approval before they can fly in front of the general public, of which they only get one shot per year. For example, if the Red Arrows did their display for approval and the chief's weren't happy with any part of the display, the would be refused their flying display approval and would miss out on that years circuit. There is no paying off officials or favouritism when it comes to the safety of airshow displays - unlike football games. Look at how many people have died or been injured whilst at football matches such as the Hillsborough disaster. One thing I know about the people who organise and run the airshows, is that even during the event itself, if they aren't truly happy about the safety of all concerned they will stop the event midway and send people home. Yet in a football match, it seems it is very difficult for the officials to agree to stop a game if the safety is breeched. With over 700 airshow events around the world every year, how many reports of accidents have you seen?
Rather than banning airshows, some people have said that they should be held on beaches. However, I think this is worse. Seaside airshows attract far more people because they are free (with many boat owners watching from the comfort of the sea) and so aren't going to be any safer just because the plane may be able to crash into the sea. At the end of the day, if a plane looses control or has a major problem, just because it is held by the sea, doesn't mean the plane isn't going to turn into the crowdline. With many people parking on the beaches to watch airshows, surely this would make it just, if not more, dangerous.
Other people have just said that airshows should be held in out of the way areas and away from major roads, but in order to do this you would have to include airports such as Heathrow as well right? Meaning there probably wouldn't be any airports in London or any other city. Because lets face it, its just as dangerous and many of the airshow pilots that partake in shows such as Shoreham, are airline pilots themselves like Andy.
I want to finish on a high so I thought I would share with you what is great about airshows. First of all they are a great way of remembering - from watching spitfires (The Battle Of Britain) to watching the Vulcan (Falklands), these displays ensure that those who took part or were effected in some way are not forgotten. This will be proven in the upcoming CarFest event this week, where a 'missing man' flypast will take place by the Gnat display team in memory of pilot Kevin who lost he life a few weeks ago as he plane crashed during the CarFest North event.
Airshow displays can give you a real insight into history - you are seeing a piece of history in the flesh and I think flying displays really put into perspective what it was like. You will get more understanding from watching the display than reading about it. For example, I had been doing research on First World War aviation and read about how slow and hard to manoeuvre the planes were. I did not really understand this until I saw for myself the Great War Display Team. I then understood why there are so many different aircraft as each one has been built better than the last.
Every year, I attend RIAT in Fairford, the UK's largest airshow. They sell roughly 150,000 tickets to the three-day effect, at on average £50 a ticket. This money goes straight to the Royal Airforce Charitable Trust whose aim is to promote the RAF, support its people and encourage new people to join the RAF. Other airshows around the country donate money to their own chosen charities, I just wonder how many of these charities would still be around to help those in need without the money raised from the aviation community.
As well as raising money for chairty, airshows are a great way of getting people to spend money in the local area. People travel from around the world to watch airshows and spend money on local hotels, restaurants and shops which helps the economy.
Lastly, airshows are about inspiring a younger generation. many of the worlds greatest aviation photographers, groundcrew and pilots chose their careers because of airshows they had been too. Without inspiring the next generation, in the years to come we would have nobody to protect our skies when the need arises - At lot of this goes on behind the scenes with nobody ever saying thank you - as a guide just Google Russian planes intercepted over Britain and see how many times the RAF have been scrambled whilst we are going about our daily lives. We would also have to rely on travel by sea because there would be no airline pilots to take over the controls from those retiring. So yes, the accident at Shoreham has caused devastation but airshows themselves are on the whole and safe and wonderful experience.
For more information:
Royal Airforce Charitable Trust
CarFest South 2015
The Royal Airforce
UK Airshow Events