Air show supporters still enthusiastic despite fewer air shows

Monday, February 4, 2008 | 1:52 p.m. CST; updated 7:16 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis region, which has a storied aviation past, has lost two popular air shows in as many years.

The St. Louis County Fair and Air Show called an end to its event last week. The amount of development in the suburb of Chesterfield was making it difficult to find enough parking; organizers also had to ask some residents and businesses to vacate during the shows to follow rules designed to keep people safe on the ground.

Organizers of Fair St. Louis, a celebration downtown by the Arch, ended its air shows before the summer of 2006. The fair’s hours were scaled back in place of a summer-long music festival, and the air shows were eliminated as a result, said Missy Slay, executive director of Celebrate St. Louis.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Monday that nationwide there are currently about 340 air shows a year, about 10 percent fewer than a decade earlier.

John Cudahy, president of the International Council of Air Shows Inc., said air shows attract about 12 million people annually. “In a way, air shows are seeing the same kinds of consolidations the rest of the event world is seeing,” Cudahy said.

But air show supporters point out that without them, a valuable opportunity is lost to hook people on aviation. “I think there’s a tremendous amount lost,” said Bob McDaniel, director of the St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia, Ill.

“I got my start in aviation as I was sitting in my sandbox as a little kid watching airplanes fly overhead. The opportunities for kids to be exposed to aviation (today) are not near what they used to be.”

Jean Murry of St. Louis County said one of the goals of the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum is to get younger people interested in the rich history of aviation in the St. Louis area, which featured the likes of trans-Atlantic pilot Charles Lindbergh; aircraft builder McDonnell Douglas, which was acquired by Boeing Co. in 1997; and Trans World Airlines, whose assets were bought by American Airlines in 2001.

“Oh my goodness, pretty soon it will be to the point where young people will hardly know what an airplane looks like,” Murry said.

Jack Jackson, retired chief test pilot for Boeing Co., flew the St. Louis-built Harrier at the Fair St. Louis and St. Louis County shows and said airplanes “hold a mystique to a lot of people.” He recalled how people would flock to the fence as he would taxi past at an area airport.

Air show enthusiasts still will be able to attend one this year at Scott Air Force Base in southern Illinois, which is hosting a show in September and will feature the Air Force Thunderbirds.

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