A flying festival advertised as the biggest free air show on the south coast will charge punters for the first time this year.

Eastbourne Borough Council has announced charges of up to £6 to watch Airborne from the seafront’s prime viewing spots.

Tens of thousands of spectators attend the air show every year and the council stands to make a small fortune.

Regular visitors and Eastbourne residents have voiced anger at the plans and have been planning ways around the charges – including a D-day style mass landing on the beaches.

The decision to make visitors pay is thought to have been made on Monday yet there are already 600 members signed up to a protest group on social networking site Facebook entitled “Airbourne Eastbourne – I’m not paying to stand on my own seafront!”.

Organiser of that group Shirley Moth said: “This has always been advertised as the biggest free air show around.

“As residents we do not feel we should have to pay to stand on our own seafront.

“This group is a serious message to the council but also tongue in cheek as we are planning dinghy landings on to the beaches as apparently they cannot stop anyone walking on the beach below the low water mark ñ though this will be a problem during high tides.”

It is thought that the council will cordon off two substantial areas of the seafront and charge £6 for a deckchair.

The Argus understands the zones earmarked for paying viewers include the bandstand area and the Wish Tower slopes.

A council spokesman who is working on the air show refused to comment. She said the matter would be discussed by the full cabinet later this month and confirmed details would follow.

It is understood the cordoning off of two prime areas is being considered as an experiment and a means to raise funds to cover the ever increasing cost of the planes.

Beryl Healy, a county councillor for Eastbourne, said: “I am appalled by this decision. This was decided without me knowing about it. I wonder what secret meeting went on.”

Businesswoman Emma Wright said the move could end up backfiring on the council.

She said: “I was going to be renting space as I did last year along the seafront to promote my business but I won’t be doing this if the council decides to charge people.

“They may gain money with one daft decision but they’ll only lose it in another area.”

Tom Rogers from Eastbourne said: “I can’t believe they want to start charging for an airshow which is getting progressively worse over the years.

“Anyway, because I’ve lived in Eastbourne all my life I know better places to watch the displays.”

A spokesman for the Royal Air Force Association said: “We knew nothing about this but we are not happy with the idea.”