Last Monday, 1st February, the Civil Aviation Authority released a consultation document – CAP1373b ‘Statutory air display and low flying permission charges – Consultation on proposed amendments to charges for 2016-17‘ which could potentially spell the end of many UK airshows and flying displays, particularly the smaller ones, and curtail others.
The document outlines proposals to hugely increase charges relating to air displays, partly as a result of the ongoing Air Display Review and partly in “mitigation of existing under-recovery of costs”. While the tragedy at Shoreham last year clearly invites tougher safety regulation in some areas, which would inevitably result in an increase in costs to the CAA, the proposal to increase charges almost to breaking point seems an unnecessary and unwarranted blow to an already highly regulated and costly area.
To illustrate the sort of increase we are talking about – if in 2015 an airshow had between 25-30 display items they paid £2,020 for the CAA permission. For the same display in 2016 they will pay £14,040 (including an entirely new Flying Display Post-event Charge). The CAA needs to break down and justify for the public, aircraft operators and airshow organisers this 595% increase in charges (in our example – the new charges work on a sliding scale). In our opinion this level of increase is unreasonable.
From the CAA website:
“This consultation contains the proposed amendments to air display charges contained within the CAA General Aviation Scheme of Charges.
To accommodate the timetable for the 2016 air display season, these proposals are planned to be effective as from 1 April 2016.
The proposals consider cost recovery of the planned increase in resources, following the actions required from the Air Display Review and potential recommendations from the Air Accident Investigation Branch’s report, and partial mitigation of existing under-recovery of costs.
Consequently, the air display charges are proposed to increase significantly for the larger events on a sliding scale pending a full review of the changing regulatory requirements and effect on charges in time for industry consultation for the 2017-18 Scheme.”
While we strongly support and encourage the CAA’s aim to continually review airshow safety, we feel that the proposals to increase the charges related to airshows, by the figures suggested, is a step too far, and will have limited direct safety benefits. They will however have a huge effect on the organisations and individuals involved within the airshow community. And the general public will not be unaffected. Airshow entrance charges will inevitably rise if organisers are forced to pay more, thereby making what is hardly a cheap day out as it is, even more inaccessible to a greater number of people.
Apart from the spectating public, the list of people and organisations potentially affected, both financially and otherwise (e.g. in terms of charities: public awareness), by the CAA proposals contained in CAP 1373b is depressingly long and varied. Here are a few for starters:
Service and civilian charities, and this will include some airshow organisers (it’s not clear whether charitable income from airshows has ever been assessed, but it is fairly safe to say that it will be a very significant amount. This is certainly true for TPM); specialist engineering companies; aircraft restoration firms; fabric suppliers and fitters; individual pilots; flying schools; flying clubs; formation flying teams; airfields; veterans’ organisations; military and aviation museums, aviation support services – fuel suppliers etc; independent traders – and if you’ve been to an airshow you will know this includes: fast-food outlets; drinks suppliers; ice-cream vans; retailers: clothing; model aircraft; aviation art; books; toys etc., etc..
And then of course, there is the potential impact on the local business community – so: hotels; restaurants; pubs; shops; petrol stations; bus companies; the rail networks – the list goes on.
Then there is the likely contraction/loss to the aviation media sector, with specialist magazines like FlyPast and the Aeroplane being badly hit. Added to that the sale of specialist DVDs and other media would take a pounding. ‘Planes TV’ and other web-based channels such as GAR and Xtended must also not be forgotten, they will have a greatly reduced content source, nor the many talented aviation photographers and artists.
All of the above rely on airshows as a significant part of the income stream – whether for profit or not, as in our case. These companies and organisations also employ many individuals who will be personally affected if the CAA’s proposals are implemented.
But the damage wouldn’t stop there. Another possible consequence – and nightmare scenario to many of us – could be an out-flowing of historic aircraft from the UK. If owners find their economic base being threatened then they will go to France or Germany or Switzerland or even the US – or just get out of the business entirely. Prices of historic aircraft would plummet, making the restoration sector even more fragile – to say nothing of the major auction houses being hit.
An example of the impact an airshow can have on a region comes from the experience of one of our own team members – Ross Sharp – who was for some time during the 1990’s heavily involved with the display events at, what was then, RAF Finningley. With the help of local businesses, he worked out the financial impact of the main event weekend was a staggering £6.3 million. Hotels for a 30 mile radius were fully booked, petrol stations had to order in extra fuel, local supermarkets had to work hard to keep the shelves stocked and British Rail (as was) sold more than 12 times the usual number of tickets. Even the local newspaper tripled its run. When the show was moved to Waddington, the loss of income in the area was felt by many.
At the last Finningley Air Show, the organisers handed over a cheque to the RAFBF for no less than £250,000! (in 1993 terms). This represented a significant annual contribution to their funds. Given the fact that Service men and women need support now more than ever, a major reduction in the amount generated for Service charities is unacceptable. (Not forgetting many civilian good causes that benefit from airshows, either).
An increase of this scale in the fees associated with running an airshow is not a viable proposition. It is very likely to see the end of many of the smaller shows – and potentially some of the larger ones too. The smaller events, such as East Kirkby, Shuttleworth etc., would surely be particularly vulnerable due to the smaller audiences they can cater for, as would the many free seaside shows – e.g. Eastbourne, Dawlish, Southport etc. – that have limited funding but are so popular with the public.
Lastly we mustn’t forget the small child whose first sight, like that of many of us, of an aircraft flying at an airshow sparked an interest that lasted a lifetime. How many pilots and aviators have you heard of who were inspired to fly or otherwise find a niche in the aviation world by what they saw as a child visiting an airshow for the first time?
So we ask for your support to keep alive this important sector – one that not only contributes millions of pounds to the economy, but is enormously popular with the public – second only to football as a spectator event – and an important starting point for many an aviation career.
The closing date of the consultation is 29th February and you can add your voice by completing the submission form on the CAA’s website, here. You can also sign the petition which has been launched here. It would also be a good idea to write to your MP. Details on how to do this are on the petition site.
Let’s not stand by and watch the Great British airshow be consigned to history. It would be such an enormous loss.
The People’s Mosquito