2009 Cape air show canceled

Friday, December 26, 2008
KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com
First-year Red Baron Squadron pilot Ryan Mohr glanced toward the ground while performing aerobatics over the Mississippi River near Cape Girardeau on July 5, 2007.

The annual Cape Girardeau Regional Air Festival will go on a one-year hiatus, the city announced this week. Airport manager Bruce Loy said he expects to deliver a bigger, better show in 2010.

"Every show is a risk, and it was just decided this year we would take a break," he said.

Loy said he wanted to announce the shift in the show's schedule as early as possible because hotel rooms for the show are reserved early every year and "it's only fair to let people know in advance."

Loy said the soft economy influenced the decision to wait another year between air shows. Cape Girardeau has been subjected to a series of layoffs and business closings over the last several months, including 228 job cuts at show sponsor Noranda.

"The hope is that the economy is going to begin to turn and you'll see an uptick and an upswing in terms of mood and perception," said Chuck Martin, executive director of the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau. "I think the economy, as it currently is, the impact is across the board."

After the scaled-back show in July -- initially planned with Old Town Cape as a riverfront event but forced by flooding to move back to the airport ? Loy said organizers tentatively discussed an every-other-year schedule while making 2009 plans. Loy said he had high hopes of getting a military jet performance team to appear at the next show.

This year, he said, he'd been negotiating to bring the Pensacola, Fla.,-based U.S. Navy Blue Angels to town. "We made some May dates in hopes of attracting them or the Canadian Snowbirds," he said.

The Blue Angels last performed in Cape Girardeau in 1992. Loy learned earlier this month that Cape Girardeau was not on the team's 2009 schedule.

Capt. Tyson Dunkelberger, public affairs officer for the Blue Angels, said the annual air show schedule is reviewed as it goes up the chain of command.

"Any entity at any level can change or alter the air show schedule for that year," he said. "That's pretty much what happened. We never, ever say we're going to an air show site until after the air show schedule is released."

He said the Blue Angels' schedule next year is slightly expanded over this year, with two more shows, including yet-to-be-confirmed date in April, for a total of 36 events. The team, which performs from March though November each year, has no dates booked in Missouri.

"Our mission is to bolster the recruitment and inspire people to join the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps," he said. "We try to arrange our schedule to justify our work. I'm not sure what the case is or the reasoning for us not going there. All I know is our higher headquarters decided that's not a show site we'd be going to. There's a whole bunch of reasons that determine whether or not we go to an air show."

Civilian demonstration teams such as Lima Lima are popular, Loy said, but few have the pull of such teams as the Blue Angels.

Loy said that on average the air show draws between 8,000 and 10,000 people and that between 7 and 10 percent of the air show's visitors book hotel rooms.

Martin said a Blue Angels booking has the potential of bringing as many as 20,000 over the course of a two-day air show. Martin said the formula for determining the economic impact of an event is $50 per person.

"Any time I give averages, I wince because the first reaction is, 'You can't be serious,'" Martin said. "But that number is based on some people spend the night and have a room for the night -- that's $80 -- and factor in everything else. Some are day-trippers, and some won't spend a penny, but on average that number is one I'm fairly comfortable with using."

He said an act like the Blue Angels could conceivably bring as much as $1 million to the area.

Loy and Martin demurred on what the skipping a year of the air show would mean in terms of empty hotel rooms and restaurant traffic, though based on their figures the economic loss would be between $400,000 and $500,000.

"Obviously any time you have a cancellation of an event, it has an impact," Martin said. "The air show certainly has, in terms of hotel rooms, and people do come into the city and take advantage of that."

Among the changes to this year's show was free admission to an airport-based air show, which featured the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute demonstration team. Though attendance was high -- an estimated 15,000 attended the one-day event -- admission was free. The show cost $75,000 to produce, Loy said. A full two-day show costs about $160,000, he said, but that is reduced by admission.

He said he would continue to apply for military jet teams every August.

"We still have high anticipation of getting the Blue Angels for 2010," Loy said.

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

388-3646

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