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Waddington evolves looks at the recent changes behind the scenes at one of the UK’s largest military airshows. All images are from the 2009 event, held over the weekend of July 4/5.


Vulcan XH558 remained grounded all weekend, much to the frustration of the 160,000 spectators. “We were advised late Friday night that the Vulcan would probably not fly over the weekend," said Airshow Manager Colin Reeves. "This was the first time we had been made aware that there was a problem. I can only apologise on behalf of the Waddington International Air Show and I am currently writing a letter to the Vulcan Operating Company on behalf of my Trustees.” Key - Gary Parsons

The 2009 Waddington International Airshow was the fifteenth year of the ‘modern’ event, which moved from RAF Finningley in 1995 after the closure of the South Yorkshire airfield.

For the first thirteen years, the airshow was in the capable hands of Paul Byram, a former Squadron Leader who had built the Finningley event into a highly regarded success, undoubtedly the highlight of September for many airshow regulars. Ably assisted for many years by Malcolm Gardner and Kay Sall, Paul ensured that Waddington’s reputation exceeded that of Finningley and is second only to the Royal International Air Tattoo in the UK.

Late 2007 brought a sea change in the airshow team with both Paul and Mal retiring and Kay relocating with her husband to sunnier climes. In came new manager Colin Reeves, ex-OC Operations Wing at Waddington, assisted by Danny Mellor and Katrina Cajkova, the only constant being Display co-ordinator Pat Bland, who retires this September. So 2008 was a baptism of fire for the new team, although Paul was on hand to guide the team in the weeks building up to the big weekend. “We learnt a lot,” said Colin, shortly before this year’s event, his second show in charge. “The airshow ran very successfully for 13 years under Paul and Mal – they did a great job. But with the changing economic climate and the reduction in military aircraft, we’ve had to change the way we do some things.

The main international participation in 2009 came from the Polish Air Force 'Team Orlik' with their PZL-130s. Key - Gary Parsons
“We did a crowd survey last year and that reinforced what we already suspected: the usual issues on car parking, fast food, toilets. We’ve changed the way we’re doing fast food this year – we’ve got a new company contracted and are moving to ‘food courts’ with seating areas. We’ve moved the funfair away from the central area, which will now be the showcase for the RAF today and other military. We’ve changed the way we run the car parks – we now colour-code the routes coming in so the public know where to go and we’ve ‘themed’ all of our enclosures with the history of the RAF in Lincolnshire. We’re working with East Midlands trains to try and get more in by train and coach to reduce the number of cars, and we’ve reached an agreement with the police to be more flexible on overspill car parks so we don’t get the queues on the roads outside. We will close the gates around 14:30 for 30 minutes to allow us to reconfigure the traffic flow.

“We’re also extending activities on the ground,” Colin continued. “The flying display will finish about 17:30 and we’ve got a musical event on the Saturday and Sunday evening to hold people back – helicopter pleasure flying will continue through to about 20:00.

“Generally all of the changes we’re indicating to people so far have been well received. We’ve increased the size of the grandstands, as last year all seats sold out in advance – the first time this had happened. In fact, our enclosures this year have all sold very well. We’re six weeks ahead of last year so far.”

Waddington saw the public debut of the RAF's new Hawk T2 advanced trainer, now in service at RAF Valley. For more see the August issue of 'AIR International'. Key - Gary Parsons
But with the ‘credit crunch’ and the depressing economic climate, are airshows at risk? “Corporate hospitality is slightly down, by about 15%, but that’s no surprise with the recession. We’ve introduced a family ticket this year, which has gone down exceptionally well. It’s only available in advance but two adults and two children can get in for £40, which is a very good deal.

“The recession hasn’t hit us particularly hard. I think lots of people are staying in the UK and looking for things to do. My experience of going out with the town councils is that they’re all saying the same thing. Sponsorship is actually up this year – we’re still getting our main defence companies and the odd smaller company coming in, but the majority of our sponsorship packages are small. The biggest we do is £17,000. Most was committed before the recession really bit, but the companies are there and are comfortable. We may struggle in 2010, but those we’ve spoken to are indicating they think Waddington is a good deal and will stick with us. We’ll know in September or October. I go out and talk with all of the companies. More of them are taking up with the branding of the airshow, so I’m confident we won’t see too much of a drop next year. As long as we cover our costs and keep the corporate hospitality places going, that’s fine. What I can’t afford is those that have paid going in and finding a half-empty tent – we will fill it!”

Colin says they are continually talking to the RAF about its involvement. “We’re working with the Station Commander and Air Command to try and get more support for Royal Air Force participation – the Tucano has dropped out after its accident, and of course the Role Demo isn’t happening this year. That’s a great shame – last year was superb and the public really loved it. We’re working to try and get more flying items – we will get all the manpower and ground support we need. We’ve got the recruiting section to advertise what all three military services have to offer and all the opportunities available. Of course I’d love more foreign military participation, and we’re working with Koksijde as we both recognise that our shows will always be on the same weekend. The only way we can both get the reducing number of military assets is to share them, and that’s been a very positive experience.

The French Air Force national display team, the Patrouille de France, displayed on the Sunday after travelling up from Koksijde's airshow. Key - Gary Parsons
“The show is continually self-supporting, even to the extent that we actually pay the air force for the aircraft it provides and we insure all the service personnel. We still run the business model to generate £250,000 for charity and will continue to do that – even with the changes we propose, I’m confident we’ll still do that this year. The recession has actually helped us there as it’s driven peoples’ prices down – the contract costs are the same this year as last, where normally we’d have expected an increase, so that’s worked in our favour.”

Last year saw a capacity crowd on Saturday, undoubtedly drawn by the Vulcan, but such numbers are in fact a worry to Colin: “My biggest concern this year is that we could reach maximum capacity with the crowd – we must be due some really good weather! We’re talking with the Police and have a procedure in place if we think we’re getting near the capacity of 85,000 per day. We’re pushing heavily with the coach companies to get the number of cars down – we can just park 32,000 cars. The European set-aside for farmers has been dropped, so that hasn’t helped with getting overflow car parks, but we’ll be looking at options over the next year or so.” Unfortunately most of the land around the airfield is arable, making it uneconomic to use for just one weekend a year a month or so before harvest. As it happened, the weather over the 2009 weekend was good, with a car-park busting 90,000 visitors on Saturday bolstered by another 75,000 on Sunday.

“We’ve looked at Park & Ride before – the problem is that if you have some parking on the airfield, people who use the Park & Ride see spaces when they arrive so get back on the bus to get their car. You really need to stop parking on the airfield to make Park & Ride work. It’s another one we will look at over the next year with the council, particularly if they go for the Lincoln Park & Ride scheme, three sites of which are this side of the city.”

One of many Jet Provosts that filled the static line. Key - Gary Parsons
So despite the recession, Colin and the team were confident 2009 would be another successful event with a substantial donation to charity. “It’s all positive at the moment. We’ve got a full flying display, despite some disappointments. The Patrouille de France should be a big pull on the Sunday, as should Team Orlik on both days. We’re still waiting for the Americans to declare – I do know that there’ll be no F-22 in the UK this year at all, but we’re working with them to try and get a B-52 on the ground and doing a fly-through. I’ve asked General Schmidt, who has just taken over as the force commander, for the painted NATO anniversary E-3A – we’re quite hopeful as Koksijde had it last year!” As it transpired, neither the B-52H or E-3A came off, but it isn’t for the lack of effort. “The Indian Air Force was looking very positive earlier, but after various issues they are not coming this year. We are working closely with them and they are talking about coming next year, hopefully with some very special aircraft. They’re very keen to come, and quite disappointed they can’t make it this year.”

The Czech Air Force An-26 returned sporting new NATO paintwork. It won the 'concours d'elegance' in 2008 and was second this year. Key - Gary Parsons
Looking to the future, Colin sees the industry having to pull together. “In the UK all of the main airshows are now working together so when we go out to get foreign teams we don’t offer one airshow, but a package. Eventually we’ll have both civilian and military airshow organisers in one meeting. The Olympics and 2012 has really driven this. We’ve moved our date because Farnborough moved theirs, then did RIAT. We’ve gone out to Yeovilton and suggested they go after Farnborough because they won’t be affected by the Olympics, whereas Farnborough would be. We will be 30 June/1 July in 2012 – it may make University accommodation difficult, as Riseholme Campus is being earmarked as the Equestrian training site for the Olympics, but we are all talking to make sure we can run the events. Long-term we’ve got to get together and produce this unified airshow calendar – with reducing aircraft and a reducing number of traders, we can’t do airshows on the same weekend. It’s not fair to the public who pay to keep us going.”

The latest staff change is David Thomas, ex-Vulcan display pilot, taking the reins from Pat Bland on aircraft participation for 2010. With Dave’s enthusiasm for all things big and noisy, the prospects are good! The 2010 event will take place on July 3 and 4.

Airshow action - the displays in order on Saturday

Filed Under Airshows Features.


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1 Comment

David J Stanford said on the 12-Jun-2009 at 14:27

I am going to have to learn how to take pictures like these, they are absolutely wonderful with such crisp detail.
How about a 'how to' section inviting aviation photographers to share their secrets?

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