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RAFA Airshows: Shoreham’s 20 years

key.aero talks to Don Bean MBE, organiser of the Shoreham-by-Sea Airshow, one of a handful staged to raise money for the Royal Air Force Association.

29-Oct-2009


Warbirds are always a key theme at Shoreham's airshows. All images Key - Gary Parsons

key.aero: “Don, it’s 20 years now that Shoreham’s Airshow has been going. Take yourself back to that very first air show – what were your thoughts and ambitions at the time?”

Don Bean: “Well, you’ve got to remember that it wasn’t an airshow the first time we did this. We were looking for some way of raising funds for the Shoreham-by-Sea branch of the Royal Air Force Association, and we thought about Shoreham Airport – shouldn’t we talk to someone there and see if we can do something? We met a guy called Peter Eager, who was then the manager of Southern Air, and he suggested we hold a fete in their car park area. In 1989 we did that and made £1,500, which is more than that branch had ever raised in the past before. It was quite amazing! That was the start of it really.”

“Back then, did you ever see it getting as big as it’s become?”


Don Bean, MBE.
“No. We had a series of airport managers here who wouldn’t dream of an airshow. They didn’t want anything to fly. Gradually we got round them, and we managed to do a small airshow from east to west, which was fine, no problem at all, until the Civil Aviation Authority jumped in and said they didn’t like that because we were flying over the town centres of Shoreham, Lancing and Worthing. We had to try north to south. I approached the manager at the time, John Haffenden, and he said “okay, but you’ll have to have the whole airfield.” I said “that’s right!” In those days the airport was owned by Brighton, Hove and Worthing Councils, so he had to get permission from them. They agreed and so we had the whole airfield. Gradually over the years, we’ve built it up until now it’s one of the nicest airshows in the country, in my humble opinion!”

“I think a lot of people would agree with you on that. When did the airshow get to the level it is today?”


Star of the static, the RAF Harrier, taxis past Shoreham's terminal building.
“Probably about ten years ago. Obviously we’ve had highs and lows; we’ve had very important aircraft in and then not so important ones. It’s a shame we don’t get a Harrier display anymore, which was essential to this airfield, because it’s so small – it’s the only ‘big’ jet we can get in. But gradually we got other things happening. We managed to get an F-16 display from Denmark, although he flew from Manston. We’ve had our supporters over the years, like Team Guinot and people like that.”

“How much money did you raise for RAFA last year?”

“We raised £100,000 from the show; the year before we made £150,000. So, we were a little bit down last year, but that happens sometimes. Over the years we’re now approaching £1.5 million in all, which is absolutely really outstanding, and RAFA realises that we are one of its biggest ‘Wings Appeal’ supporters.”

“As airshows get ever more difficult to organise with Health and Safety concerns, costs going up, is it becoming harder each year to achieve that level of donation?”

“Yes. A problem with this airshow is that everyone who’s here is a volunteer, and many are approaching 80 years old! Some are even older, and although they are keen, the body isn’t always, and it’s difficult. Lots of people want to volunteer and be a part of it, and we want to get them involved, because we don’t want to have to pay people because then the money doesn’t go to charity. It’s a charity affair and that’s how we want to keep it.”

“I guess that’s one of your main messages – if young people want to volunteer to help, please do so?”


Olly chats with Captain Mainwaring. Shoreham always has a big element of fun!
“Sure, we always talk to people. If we can find younger people to come along who can give up the time – because it takes so much time, people don’t realise - they think an airshow can be organised in a couple of weeks! It’s not, it’s all year round. We’ve got an office in the airport and we’re there five days a week nearly all the year.”

“Has the airshow reached the peak where it perhaps can’t get any bigger because of the restrictions of airspace and roads?”

“Yes, definitely; it’s not so much airspace, it’s ground space. We’ve got a small airfield here, and that’s all we’ve got and we’re not going to get any bigger. We turn the airfield into a village for the airshow. We put roads in and things like that so it becomes a nice area, you get a nice feel about it. We put a big children’s area in and we put a lot in for mums, so it becomes a nice family affair.”

“And in terms of the road capacity, we’re predicting a bumper crowd this year. Are you anticipating problems on the roads?”

“Yes, that’s one of our biggest worries. We’ve tried to divert people onto the main A23/A27, rather than using the small country roads, because that’s what blocks it all up. We’re hoping that it’ll work ouut. We obviously want the people in!”

“I understand you’re restricted in when you can hold the airshow because of the Hurricane incident of 2007?”


Lancing College provides a fabulous backdrop.
“The Hurricane crashed in the grounds of Lancing College, and the College have said they’d prefer us not to hold the airshow when the kids are at school, which we’ve reluctantly agreed to. We don’t like holding it in August really, we would prefer to hold it in September around the Battle of Britain weekend, but there we go – it still works, providing the weather’s okay!”

“Do you do advance ticket sales?”

“Yes, we do online sales and we’ve got about 60 ticket outlets throughout Sussex, and down in Portsmouth. It’s been massive; they’ve done very, very well this year.”

“This year quite a few airshows have found that with big crowds arriving a lot of ticket holders haven’t managed to get in. Do you have a strategy for managing that?”

“I suppose all we can offer is a refund, but touch wood, we haven’t had that problem before. Some people may think "Well, it’s a charity event, okay we couldn’t get in, it’s our fault for coming late’, or something like that. It’s amazing how many people are like that, they often say ‘keep the money’. We had one gentleman who couldn’t come and he’d bought three tickets. He came into the office and said ‘I don’t want the money back, give those tickets to someone who deserves them’. That’s the sort of attitude of people around here; it’s a nice community attitude.”

“So you’ve a very good relationship with the airport?”

“Fantastic!”

“The local council?”


Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton was guest of honour.
“Yes, fantastic, they are very, very supportive. Everybody is very supportive, we’re very lucky. The council will help us with rubbish and things like that. It took many years to get that support, but now we’ve got it, it’s superb.”

“And RAFA itself?”

“They support us too. This year we’ve got the new Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton coming as our special guest, and then we’ve got our RAFA president, Air Marshal Philip Sturley. It’s nice to get them to come in uniform, which I’ve asked them to do. It gives a nice feeling to the show when you take them round to meet people.”

“And looking forward into the future, will you be involved in the 21st Shoreham Air Show next year?”

“I’d rather not answer that. It’s difficult to say - I mean I’m 77 years old now and if my health allows me, I’d like to do it, but it does depend on many things.”

“Of course it’s the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain next year…”

“It’ll be wonderful – it’s also 100 years of this airport next year. I expect I’ll be there, somehow!”

The 2010 Airshow will be held over the weekend of August 21-22 – see www.shorehamairshow.com for more details.

Shoreham's 2009 airshow

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