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Airshows are hugely important events, on the outside you may think they are just for entertainment, but there is far more to them than you might think. An airshow is a single event, with many strands and purposes sitting within it, from economic benefits, trade, international diplomacy, innovation, tourism, even before the first aircraft takes to the skies. 

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What is an Airshow?

You might think it's a simple answer and from the outside it probably is, an event that uses Aviation as it's entertainment, just like a music festival uses a Band.  The reality is they are much more than that. Whilst the common theme is the entertainment, the aims and purposes are very different depending on your reason for going, supporting and for staging an airshow in the first place.  Since 1903 and in fact even beyond, the public has had a fascination with flight and aviation, which remains to this day.  Airshows and Display flying demonstrates all aspects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). In addition they show the very best of Teamwork, leadership and Innovation, using aircraft as its medium to communicate with visitors. 

Farnborough International is one of the worlds largest Aviation Trade events, this short clip gives you a flavour of why these  events are so important to International Economies and Development.

Why Do Airshows Exist?

The Answers are endless, just like the public's interest in flight and desire to be entertained by pilots and aircraft across the globe. Airshows come in all shapes and sizes.


Many airshows are held to promote and encourage tourism, raising the profile of an area and the economic benefits it brings. It might be to promote an airport or simply a local town, whichever people attend spend money and invest in the local economies, in shops, hotels and businesses alike. 


Military airshows are held to demonstrate to the public what their Armed Forces and Partners can do, to aide with recruiting, information and knowledge. It is a physical demonstration of air power, mixed with exciting and informative ground displays promoting STEM, careers and showing exactly where their taxes are being spent. 


The third main group are those which are held for trade purposes with huge aviation industry support, whether in the civilian or military sales arenas. This events are of huge economic benefit on an international scale, with multi million dollar sales often being recorded for new aircraft, systems and support packages, being the shop window for the aviation industry. Often all three areas combine into one event. 


In addition many other events such as country shows, sports events, music and many others will include a flying display as entertainment for their visitors too!

Created by Chris Jansenns for the EAC & Sanicole International Airshow, this 2017 video gives you a unique inside viewpoint from many key performers and individuals within the International Airshow world. Why they do it, what they see the purpose of airshows are to them.

Are Airshows Safe?

The simple answer is yes! Airshows in Europe are inherently safe, there are risks associated with display flying, but they are identified, mitigated and managed to a high level. All areas of Aviation have strict safety rules and regulations to abide by and follow, Display Flying is no exception. 

It can be frustrating to read media headlines describing flying displays as 'Dangerously low', 'Near Death Aerial Stunts' and many others in a bid to get readership or viewers for their media outlet. The fact is that the display flying and all the manoeuvres flown by pilots, will have been practiced time and time again and be based around the pilots level of experience, knowledge, ability and also the aircrafts capabilities. This is backed by strict regulations which limit how low pilots can fly, the  manoeuvres  they can complete and the minimum separation distances they must keep from the crowds. Each Display is also monitored by a safety team, to ensure the rules and regulations are being adhered to. Pilots must be current, competent and qualified to fly in a display and meet international and national requirements on holding a flight crew licence, which includes strict medical criteria. All aircraft must also meet specific and regulated Engineering requirements and insurance levels. 

The ground side of an Airshow is run in the same way, following safety guidance and law to ensure that all aspects are safe, run correctly and follow any guidance or best practice. This includes things like ingress to sites, Counter Terrorism procedures, security, Health and Hygiene, Evacuation and general day to day operations like logistics and sanitary facilities. 

There are occasions where things do go wrong and accidents do occur, this is the same in aviation as in any other area of life, but the accident rate is low. Every incident is investigated and plans exist in how to deal with them when they occur. Perhaps more importantly the industry always looks to learn from any incident , no matter how small and find ways to avoid a repetition in the future. 

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Examples of National and European Regulation and Guidance on the safe conduct and rules regarding display flying from the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority and European General Aviation Safety Team. 

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Example of a Display Area Map provided to Pilots showing the Display Area, avoidance areas, hazards and minimum display separation distances. Kindly provided by R5 Air Displays Ltd.

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What Training Do Pilots Have?

All civil pilots flying in air displays will either be licensed through their respective national aviation regulator, normally meeting and or exceeding agreed international standards on training and qualification. In many nations such as the UK, they must then prove they are competent, to display an aircraft in front of the public and obtain another permit, known as the Display Authorisation, which is under constant review. There are limits placed on what the pilot can and cannot do, based on their level of experience, which may differ on different types of aircraft. Restrictions and limitations within a DA will include the types of manoeuvres they can fly and also the minimum height they can fly to.  For example a new pilot that has just gained their DA may be restricted to flying very basic aerobatic manoeuvres and be limited to 500ft in height.  A more experienced pilot will be allowed to fly more complex manoeuvres down to  level of 200ft. However not all nations operate in this way. Many Display pilots will have other jobs in commercial aviation, such as flying for airlines.

There are times when some pilots may also give demonstrations such as rescue helicopters. Whilst they may form part of an airshow they are deemed not to be display flying, but a Role Demonstration. Subject to the same separation distances they are not subject to the training requirements as a normal display pilot. This is because they are limited to completing manoeuvres they fly in their normal duties. In the case of a SAR helicopter, normally demonstrating winching and the manoeuvres associated with them. This can also apply to airliners completing flypasts.

Military Display Pilots are normally subject to a stringent selection process, based on their competency, experience and a review of their whole flying career. Many solo display pilots will fly their displays in addition to fulfilling their normal roles and will always be drawn to display the type of aircraft they currently operate, with only a few exceptions. The military will also have a raft of additional safety and training requirements to follow and a strict set of currency, development approvals they must meet and follow until they are approved to display for a set period of time. Military pilots who join formation display teams, normally representing a nation around the world, will normally be seconded to the team for a set period of time, the RAF's Red Arrows for example is normally for 3 years. As such the complexities of flying aerobatic manoeuvres in large formations, these pilots complete these as their primary duties as the training requirement is so great.  With any military display they two have minimum separation distances to follow and minimum heights, sometimes being more restrictive than the civil limits. 

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