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2011 European Airshows : FEATURE

European Airshow Council Convention 2011

Each year in February, the European Airshow Council holds its annual convention. After many years “on tour” the convention returned to Belgium, first at Hasselt before moving to Brussels for 2011. It provides a focal point for discussions on air display safety, promotion of the industry as a whole as well as a chance for the organisers and teams to meet pre-season. But what exactly goes on? Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports.

A overcast winter’s day in February feels a long way from the relatively warm summer months of the airshow season, but for many in the industry the annual European Airshow Council’s Convention represents the opening event of the year as they headed across the Channel.

The Chairman of the European Air Council is Gilbert Buekenberghs, who has been organising the superb Sanicole Airshow for the last thirty years before recently handing over to his son Geoffrey. Gilbert first brought people from across the industry together over 10 years ago to share ideas on airshow safety and excellence.

The meetings have increased in popularity and grown to attract over 200 delegates from 28 nations in 2011. Gilbert is supported by the EAC Board which includes Bob Dixon, a former IAT Team member, Jaques Bothelin, leader of the Breitling Jet Team and James Black who owns the Historic Aircraft Collection’s aircraft.

The fundamental objective of the EAC is to promote excellence and safety at Airshows throughout Europe, by maintaining a vigil on Airshow safety in cooperation with appropriate regulatory agencies and to serve as an information resource for the Airshow industry.

Delegates come from a wide variety of backgrounds for the two day event at the HUSA President Hotel in Brussels. As well as display pilots there were representatives from military air arms, various aviation authorities, flying display organisers and event management. Amongst the varied military participants were the display pilots for the Turkish and Hellenic Air Force F-16s as well as a delegation from the Pakistani Air Force Display Team, the “Sherdills” all of which will hopefully feature at European Airshows this year and in future seasons.

Each convention takes on a number of themes. This year saw the principal themes of Air Display Team Management and “The Human Element” as well as smaller themes such as the growth of airshows in Eastern and Central Europe as well as ways to improve airshow websites and publicity.

Opening the Convention was former Belgian Air Force pilot, Jacques ‘Red’ Dewaelheyns who lead the famous “Red Devils” display team and recounted his colourful experiences of being a display pilot in the early jet days.

The Air Display Team Management theme brought together the current managers of the Red Arrows and Patrouille de France; Squadron Leader Grahame Bagnell (Red 10) and Lieutenant Colonel Bruno Bezier as well as former Frecce Tricolori manager Alberto Moretti. The former pair talked on how both the national teams of the United Kingdom and France work during the season and a typical airshow weekend. Grahame’s talk was particularly interesting as it included a very honest account of the Red Arrows synchro pair training accident in Crete last year.

2010 was the worst year for airshow accidents ever. With the EAC’s aim to improve safety it was not surprising that a large part of the convention was themed around “The Human Element.” While mechanical failure should not be overlooked, it is often a pilot error that is behind many accidents.

The EAC brought together an expert panel of speakers. South African display and test pilot Des Barker provided a hard hitting analysis of the 2010 airshow accidents showing the trend of change in the types of aircraft involved in display accidents. The statistics show a trend away from high performance military types and warbirds with the additional of sport aviation types, ultralights, hang-gliders and gliders.

One of the most engaging talks on human factors was that given by Dr Steve Jarvis from Cranfield University who explained how a person’s decision making process is affected by extreme stress!

The presentations concluded with a varied selection of subjects including a “lessons learnt” segment from display pilot Vito Wyprächtiger, who was Hannes Arch’s race technician at the Red Bull Air Races and now competes at Reno. Not only did he highlight the importance of professionalism but also the need for everyone to share their experiences good and bad and learn from them.

Also adding to the mix were Daniel Ventura Gonzalez, organiser of the Barcelona Airshow, dicussed webiste design for events and display team giving a great insight in to how visitors view a website and the mistakes made in several designs. Adrian Campbell from Planes TV also gave a presentation on what pleases an airshow audience from his many years of experience filming at airshows around the world.

Away from the presentations, there was an exhibition area in which a number of organisations displayed their shows, display acts and products. The Friday evening also saw the major social event of the weekend, the famous dinner which included a series of awards.

The deligate’s stalls, advertising and promotional material were judged by a panel from the UK, Switzerland and Malta. O’Brien’s Flying Circus, the An-2 Club and the Bronco Demo Team took away the awards for their Publicity material as display teams while Bournemouth Air Festival, NATO Days at Ostrava and the upcoming 100th Anniversary of the Turkish Air Force Airshow took the event prizes.

There was also the Chairman’s Award which this was presented to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight for its efforts during the 2010 season and the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

There was a final emotional presentation by Colin Hitchins who organised the Biggin Hill Air Fair in the last few years before the airport cancelled any future such events. The Air Fair recognised the best displays with several awards including a ceremonial sword now renamed the ‘Maitland Memorial Sword’.

Colin recounted the highlights of Jock Maitland’s career and those of the Air Fair before giving the new award to the European Airshow Council. The Sword will be kept by the EAC and awarded each year to someone who has made a lifetime achievement in airshows. For 2011, the EAC board voted unanimously that the sword should be presented to Gilbert Buekenberghs for all his efforts in creating the Sanicole Airshow and the European Airshow Council.

As well as forum for organisers to share ideas, it is also a massive benefit to display teams as GliderFX team leader Guy Westgate explains; “It was a chance to put some names to faces, and meet some of the airshow organisers who work behind the scenes to put on the events as well as an opportunity to promote ourselves. Finally it was a chance to learn some new things from the wide range of expert speakers at the Convention.”

As an airshow enthusiast the EAC Convention is a fascinating event, and clearly something that is important to the industry which it supports. Events like the EAC show very clearly that the “major players” in the airshow industry across Europe do work together to improve themselves which is likely to become more important in these times of economic difficulties and the need to constantly improve safety.

Thank you to Pete Wells and the SWIP Team for the invite.

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