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EDITOR’S BLOG: The cancellation of Festa al Cel 2013

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.

Airshows of the Past: RAF Displays 2005-2010

The retirement flypasts by Joint Force Harrier earlier this week marked the end of an era of V/STOL flight in the RAF that has lasted 40 years, and 50 years since the first flight of the revolutionary Hawker P1127. But it was perhaps the most high profile aircraft of a number which have been retired over the last five years that have long been a feature of UK airshows. A look back at the archives over the last five years reveal a number of iconic RAF fast jets and other important combat types  that have disappeared as the RAF modernises. These losses are perhaps inevitable as technology allows the RAF to  replace it’s diverse fleet with fewer types and more unmanned systems, but many are sorely missed by enthusiasts at airshows. Flightline UK takes a look at many types that have appeared at displays in the last five years that won’t be a feature of the 2011 season!

2006 saw the retirement of the RAF’s last few Canberra PR9 aircraft. Like many RAF types the aircraft was active on operations right up to it’s retirement in July 2006. For it’s final few months of operations, the aircraft was presented on the display circuit by 39 Squadron flown by Sqn Ldr Terry Cairns with a very spirited routine at Waddington and RIAT that year.

Next to disappear was the SEPECAT Jaguar GR3 and T4. The aircraft made it’s final year of displays in 2005 in 41 Squadron colours after the disbandment of 16(R) Squadron. The last display was flown by Flt Lt Derek Sington and the display aircraft sported some colourful artwork on the tail continuing a tradition within the Jaguar community that had started with the stunning “Black Cat” flown by 16 Squadron in the early 1990s. The Jaguar eventually retired in 2007 when the final squadron, No 6 Squadron, disbanded at RAF Coningsby in May. Later that year in early July, the Jaguar made it’s final flying display appearance at Waddington show with a QinetiQ operated example managed a few flypasts under the low cloud!

The Nimrod MR2 was always an impressive performer at airshows. It made it’s final appearance as a display item in 2004, but made several static appearances and the odd flypast right up to it’s retirement at the beginning of 2010. These flypasts included an emotional flypast at RAF Leuchars Airshow 2006 in the aftermath of the Nimrod explosion in Afghanistan with the loss of it’s crew in September 2006. It’s replacement, the Nimrod MRA4 was cancelled in the Defence Review in October which meant the last maritime patrol Nimrod made it’s final airshow appearance at the Jersey IAD in September 2010! It was a sad end to one of the most famous RAF types of recent times.

The Harrier is the most recent retirement after the announcement in the Defence Review in October 2010. A full feature on the Harrier can be found HERE. The speed of the Harrier drawdown has been unbelievably rapid with the final flights taking place in December 15th 2010. 2010 has seen the Harriers return to the airshow circuit with a role demonstration flown by Flt Lt Steve Kenworthy at a select number of events. The Harrier had previously been on the display circuit up to the end of the 2006 season when the increase in operations in Afghanistan meant the Harrier would not be flown at displays between 2007 and 2009. Before 2007, Harrier displays has been provided by 20(R) Squadron but they were disbanded in early 2010 and the OCU was passed to the IV(R) numberplate for the final year of operations.

The Tornado F3 will disappear from UK skies in March 2011 with the disbandment of 111(F) Squadron at RAF Leuchars and replacement by 6 Squadron’s Typhoon FGR4 aircraft. 2005 marked the final year of the Tornado F3 solo display, but the annual Leuchars Airshow kept the Tornado F3 part of flying displays upto the end of the 2010 display season which also saw an F3 take an integral part in RIAT’s Battle of Britain Anniversary flypast. The Tornado F3 was also an important part of the RAF Role Demonstration Team that made such an impact during the 2007 and 2008 display season and is now sorely missed.

During 2005-2010, the RAF has continued to display the Typhoon, Hawk, Tucano and Tutor (though the Tucano missed the 2009 display season following a training accident.) The Tornado GR4 has also been a constant in the display circuit bar the 2009 season either as a solo display upto 2006, the RAF Role Demo Tean in 2007 and 2008 or in it’s own Role Demo Team in 2010.

The RAF’s contribution to the 2011 display season has yet to be confirmed apart from the Red Arrows, Falcons and Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. It’s likely the consequences of the Defence Review will have some affect on the RAF’s solo displays and role demo teams as the RAF begins to shrink; full details will be confirmed in the New Year.

Save the Vulcan! (again)

It’s winter and once again we’re being asked to “Save the Vulcan!” It seems like groundhog day with the Vulcan to the Sky trust in financial dire straits. The staff at the Vulcan to the Sky Trust are again on a months notice pending the results of another fundraising campaign. It all seems pretty grim.

Unfortunately, the Vulcan was made airworthy just in time for one of the deepest economic downturns in history. Sponsorship for such a project has proved very hard to come by despite some very high profile campaigns and appearances at some of the countries biggest airshows. Ever since it make it’s first test flight, the Vulcan has been almost entirely dependant in public donations to keep flying. It has been an amazing feat of will-power and public support that has kept the Vulcan flying.

The Vulcan has had a profound effect on UK airshows. While it may not have been totally responsible for the massive crowds that most shows have enjoyed in the last couple of years, it certainly has contributed. The Vulcan does attract significant media interest for the shows which can only boost crowd numbers and as well as attracting a band of ever enthusiast supporters. Indeed, Bournemouth Council put a large part of the success of it’s show to the Vulcan’s three appearances during the air festival. The sheer presence of this emotive aircraft has always turns heads, particularly the final “howl” as the Vulcan spirals into the heavens at the end it’s displays.

The season however, wasn’t without it’s low points. The first couple of weeks of July 2009 were particularly trying with issues with the aircraft’s “Permit to Fly” preventing displays at Waddington and combined technical issues (brakes) and poor weather preventing a display at Yeovilton. However, after that the Vulcan made some spectacular airshow appearances and it has enjoyed some superb support from the public.

But all the summer’s fund-raising  has not been enough to secure the future of the project. There’s been plenty of critism of the Vulcan to the Sky Trust (VttS), mainly on internet forums and even media such as Twitter and Facebook! Many good valid points have been made but much of it is unfounded. Opportunities have been missed with the fund-raising, notably a very late start for the 2010 fund raising campaign that really should have been running way before the end of the 2009 display season. However, the Civil Aviation Authority have been very positive about the VttS’s approach to the operation of the Vulcan.  In a recent interview on key.aero Padhraic Kelleher, head of Airworthiness with the CAA, commented about the “Permit to Fly” issues at Waddington and VttS’s approach to the problems; “They behaved impeccably, and just what you would hope for an organisation that’s in charge of such a fabulous symbol.”

I think it’ll be a huge shame if the Vulcan were not to make it to the 2010 display season. Airshows will survive without the aircraft but the displays would be greatly missed. However you view the Vulcan to the Sky trust, you cannot escape the fact that the Vulcan is a hugely expensive aircraft to operate and any operator would be struggling without massive financial support.

Whether the Vulcan flies or not in 2010 depends on whether the masses really want the aircraft to fly again. If it goes, it’s likely to go forever and end up being a lifeless museum exhibit rather than an inspirational and exciting living example of British engineering at it’s best.

To pledge money to help return Vulcan XH558 to flight and airshows throughout 2010 -- CLICK HERE.

Live web broadcasting from Airshows: Views from Al Ain

Al Ain 2010 Poster

Al Ain 2010 Poster

Here in the UK, we still have February, March and April to get through until our airshow season gets underway. However, in other parts of the world, the 2010 season is already getting going. One of the first big shows of the year is the Al Ain Aerobatics Show in the United Arab Emirates. Al Ain in January is a superb venue for an airshow with warm blue skies and the dramatic desert backdrop.

For 2009 and 2010 Al Ain has hosted the AERO GP, an “air-racing” style event organised by Flying Aces who also has an internet broadcasting arm, airsports.tv. For the last two days of the Al Ain Aerobatics Show, airsports.tv has broadcast live footage from the flying displays and AERO GP on it’s website. The Al Ain Aerobatics Show is very much a global airshow bringing the very best acts together from around the world. This year acts came from Croatia, France, Italy, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK, the USA as well as the UAE. While the show does bring in a healthy number of tourists, the live internet coverage gives the show a true global audience.

The footage coming out of Al Ain has been spectucular, though was regular interrupted by adverts for show sponsors and even clips from the 2009 event (infact, I even saw myself in the footage! – Ed) as the footage was also being shown on big screens at the event. However, Airsports.tv’s footage gave a really good feel to this unique event. But why doesn’t such footage appear from UK shows? After all, internet streaming has started to become a popular feature of american airshows and major sporting events.

The cost of setting up the broadcast are perhaps prohibitive; as well as all the camera crews, live production suites and associated facilities are also required. Video footage is professionally captured at many airshows by the likes of Planes TV, but is rarely broadcast live as it’s taken back to their offices to be edited. However, live internet streaming could have some major benefits for some of the UK shows.

The Al Ain show is an important part of Abu Dhabi’s tourist strategy which cites major events such an airshows and Formula 1 motor-racing as vital attractions. In the UK, we also have airshows which are held in support of tourism, namely the big seaside events such as Sunderland, Eastbourne and Bournemouth. Could internet streaming help them? Well yes! Event’s like Bournemouth see themselves growing into international attractions bringing in visitors from Europe for their shows and internet broadcasting would be an ideal platform to promote the event and the town/resort. However, if internet broadcasting is to take off at UK shows, it’s possibly only ever going to happen with some large sponsorship which is unlikely in the current economic climate.

In the meantime, enjoy some of the higlights from Airsports.tv’s coverage of Al Ain 2010:-

 

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