Don't let the curtain go down on UK airshow performances

Posted on: 10th Feb 2016

The Shoreham Airshow accident was truly tragic. The fact that this was the first time since 1952 that a member of the public was killed in an air display in the UK is of course no consolation for those who lost their life; their loved ones and their friends. The industry is naturally in shock and all is being done to determine the cause of the accident and to see what can be done to minimise the risk of this ever happening again.
I arrived in England in 1981 to join an aerobatic display team and have stayed in the profession ever since. When I started over 35 years ago, the air display ‘industry’ was more buoyant than it is today, mainly because there were so many military shows but also because the costs were significantly lower in those days. Regulations were not as tight then either and it is a fact that there has always been a robust sense of positive action to seek better and safer ways to conduct airshows. Neither the regulators nor the aircraft operators have been sitting on their hands glowing in the knowledge that 63 years of no public fatalities in what must be the most active air display environment in the world means nothing needs to change!
I thought the CAA’s immediate response to the Shoreham Tragedy was pretty much spot on. I often boast to my friends from abroad about how lucky we are in Britain to have Aviation Regulators who are very much in touch with what’s happening on the ‘front line’. We do not suffer like others do from being regulated by faceless bureaucrats who have little idea of the difference between one end of a flying machine or the other . . there simply to interpret and apply the law without any particular understanding or pragmatism. Pending the outcome of a full investigation, the CAA grounded all Hunter jets, restricted other ex-military jets to ‘no aerobatics’ and told everyone in the industry to pay attention specifically to the Permissions for the remaining events of 2015 as they were all being reviewed. Respect.
Sadly, the next step the CAA has taken seems nothing less than drastic and tough to comprehend.
Swingeing cost increases which don’t appear to be justified  . . and which, surely, are likely to decimate the industry.
So, what to do . . . like every display pilot I know, I’ve signed the petition and am drafting a letter to the head of the CAA and to my MP
Let’s see what the investigation concludes, learn the lessons and implement the necessary changes whilst crossing our fingers and hoping that :
  • common sense will prevail in the CAA ‘knee jerking department’ 
  • the countless aviation enthusiasts of Great Britain can continue to enjoy an airshow not too far away from their home
  • we can still carry the torch of Sir Alan Cobham who inspired so many to appreciate and enjoy the spectacle and benefits of flying machines both military and civil. No doubt, Britain’s greatest ever aviation pioneer will be rolling in his grave at this current news.

Photo; Dave Edwards (New Bold Images)