I was saddened to hear of late cancellation of Barcelona’s Festa al Cel event last week, particularly as Flightline UK was due to cover the event for a third time after two very enjoyable trips in 2010 and 2011. Despite Spain’s difficulties, Festa al Cel had weathered a difficult year in 2012 and was looking forward to producing what promised to be a very exciting line-up this year featuring Patrulla Aguila, the Turkish Air Force F-16C SoloTurk as well as a superb mix of civilian displays from across Spain and Europe. Sadly the tale of the event’s cancellation has very little to with the usual struggle for money which blights many airshows. Instead the airshow has been a victim of some very unusual bureaucracy on the part of the Spanish Airport operators.
Barcelona is one of the world’s great destinations for holidays and short breaks. It is a wonderful city set on the Mediterranean coast with some stunning architecture old and new, a superb buzz and night-life in the city plus long sandy beaches. All that made it a stunning location for visitors and airshow participants alike who came to Festa al Cel from across Europe and beyond.
Festa al Cel always presented an incredible mix of displays covering all facets of aviation and from many different European countries. Just taking a snapshot from the last three years there were displays from La Patrouille de France, Patrouille Suisse, Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16AM Fighting Falcon, Belgian Air Component F-16AM Fighting Falcon, French Air Force Alpha Jet as well as the Spanish Air Force with its EF-18A Hornet, SAR SA330 Puma, CL215T Firebomber, Patrulla Paracaidista del Ejécito del Aire (PAPEA) , Patrulla ASPA and of course Patrulla Aguila – and that’s just the military. Civilian items were just as international; from France came the Breitling Jet Team and warbirds like the Supermarine Spitfire XIV, P-51D Mustang, Yak-3, AJBS’s Harvard based Zero and UK based items have included the GliderFX Team, SWIP Team and Breitling Wingwalkers. In 2011 Russian aerobatic aces Svetlana Kapina and Victor Chamal also wowed the crowds. There were also the Spanish display items – the local civilian fire-fighters showed off their Air Tractor Water-bombers, the Fundació Parc Aeronàutic de Catalunya showed off its impressive collection which includes the Super Seata classic jets and the local aero-clubs and Flying schools also provided some very unique flypasts along the seafront. Even airliners such as the Lufthansa A380 and Vueling A320 have appeared at the show. It really has become a true carnival of aviation and does a lot to promote spanish aviation with the small showground near the Olympic Park. The event has also regularly featured on live national television and really was seen as a major event in the region. In 2009, the event was combined with the Red Bull Air Race World Series and the round saw Paul Bonhomme take his first Championship in-front of 1.2million spectators over the two days of competition!
The cancellation of the event is a result of opposition from AENA, Spain’s public body operating several Airports. Not only has AENA made it impossible to run Festa Al Cel this year, but has also forced the cancellation of the Open Day at Sabedell Airport which is home to a number of historic aircraft which form Fundació Parc Aeronàutic de Catalunya. The Open Day usually coincides with Festa al Cel allowing visitors to view FPAC’s wonderful collection and a number of the visiting participating aircraft up close. AENA have cited airspace and environmental concerns in their opposition to the running of Festa al Cel but the cancellation of essentially a public open day with a STATIC display of aircraft seems to suggest AENA are trying to stem any sort of protest to the cancellation of the main airshow.
2013 would have been the 22nd Festa al Cel. The organisers are all highly experienced in running an international air display safely within the constraints of Barcelona’s airspace. Display crews were always well briefed on all the airspace constraints and the safe routes to and from their operating airport. It is very hard to see from the outside why AENA have forced the cancellation event considering the years of experience there have been running the event prior to 2013. Every year sees some changes to airports whether they have expanded or changed procedures but in reality there have been no changes that could not have been worked through between AENA and Festa al Cel to ensure the continued, safe running of one of Europe’s top airshows.
I do hope Festa al Cel’s organisers will be able to resurrect the event for 2014 and that there will be plenty of support for the event’s return both from within Barcelona and Spain and from the wider European AIrshow community. Considering the event had the backing from the City of Barcelona and various participants, it is a great shame the 2013 event has been lost to harsh and perhaps ill-informed decision making.