Dayton Air Show sees drop in attendance after Thunderbirds cancel
By BARRIE BARBER | Dayton Daily News, Ohio | Published: June 27, 2017
DAYTON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — Organizers blamed low attendance at this year’s Vectren Dayton Air Show on the cancellation of the Air Force Thunderbirds as the headline act due to a crash and record rainfall Friday that caused parking delays.
An estimated 44,000 people attended the air show, down 30 percent from expectations, organizers reported. Last year, the show drew about 51,000 people.
Military jet teams like the Thunderbirds and the Navy Blue Angels are the biggest draw for the air show and organizers bank on their appearance to bring tens of thousands to the grounds at Dayton International Airport. The show can draw as many as 65,000 or more spectators when the teams fly, officials say.
“I’m happy with (the attendance) given the circumstances,” said air show executive director Terry Grevious. “We had a good turnout (and) people seemed to enjoy themselves.”
This year was the second year in a row a military jet team scrubbed an appearance in Dayton.
The Blue Angels canceled a Dayton appearance last year in the aftermath of a fatal crash involving a pilot during a practice air show in Tennessee.
“I don’t think there’s been another time this has happened,” Grevious said. “These incidents are so rare, just really unusual for it to happen two years in a row.”
It will be weeks until air show officials know how this year’s show did financially, Grevious said. The yearly show in its fourth decade is solvent and has a reserve fund to cover potential losses, he added.
It costs about $1.3 million to launch the aerial spectacle and the show generally is a break-even event, he said.
According to the Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau, the air show has a $2.6 million economic impact in direct spending on things like hotel rooms and restaurants.
Thunderbirds cancel shows
The Thunderbirds scrubbed two weekend performances after a twin-seat F-16D fighter jet went off a runway after landing and flipped over in a grassy area about 12:20 p.m. Friday at Dayton International Airport.
The team’s narrator, who is a pilot but does not fly during the show, and a crew member were returning from a single-aircraft “familiarization flight.” They were trapped inside the cockpit until first responders freed them after more than an hour and a half. The back seat passenger was released from the hospital.
The pilot, who was reported in good condition, remained hospitalized Monday, according to a team statement.
Some who arrived at the show over the weekend were undeterred the Thunderbirds would not fly.
Charles and Theresa Cooper, both 60, moved to New Lebanon in December after 40 years in California. The married couple grew up in the Miami Valley.
“I’ve never been to the air show,” Theresa Cooper said Saturday. “It’s pretty exciting.”
The couple were driving near the airport Friday when they spotted emergency vehicles and heard about the Thunderbird jet mishap, they said.
“So sad,” she said.
Charles Cooper said he wanted to come to the air show anyway partly because of the region’s heritage as the birthplace of aviation. “Living in California, you don’t realize how much this region has to offer until you come back,” he said.
Even as thousands turned out Saturday and Sunday, organizers had to contend with record rainfall of nearly 2.7 inches Friday that caused an alternative parking plan onto paved lots to be put in place during the weekend. Officials acknowledged the change caused delays of perhaps up to an hour at peak times.
Heavy rains in June 2015 on the first day of the air show caused many vehicles to become mired in the mud and air show officials said they did not want to risk that happening again.
The Thunderbird jet mishap was the third major incident at the Dayton airport in the past decade that has impacted the air show.
In June 2013, a Boeing Stearman biplane crash in front of horrified spectators and killed wing walker Jane Wicker, 45, and pilot Charlie Schwenker, 64, both Virginia-based air show performers. The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of the biplane crash was “pilot controlled flight into terrain.”
In 2007, show pilot Jim Leroy, 46, of Lake City, Fla., died after failing to maintain clearance from the ground during an acrobatic routine in a 400-horsepower Bulldog Pitts, the NTSB reported. The board further concluded “smoke oil” in the air where the performers flew was a factor in the crash at the Dayton Air Show.
VECTREN DAYTON AIR SHOW ATTENDANCE OVER THE PAST DECADE
2016 — 51,000 ****
2015— 40,000 ***
2014 — 65,000 **
2013 — 23,000 *
2012 — 47,000 **
2011 — 65,000 ***
2010 — 79,000 **
2009 — 80,000 ***
2008 — 57,000 ****
2007 — 70,000 ***
*Budget cuts canceled most of an Air Force Thunderbirds show season and a pilot and a wing walker were involved in a fatal crash at the 2013 air show.
** Blue Angels performed
*** Thunderbirds performed
**** No military jet team performed.
SOURCE: Vectren Dayton Air Show, newspaper archives