Air Display 2013

Prestwick Airport
Saturday 31st August 2013

It was obvious from the beginning that a Festival of Flight would be expected to include an air display of some kind. During the research and development period the Curators considered the possibility of a full-blown airshow They consulted the organiser of the Northern Ireland International Airshow at Portrush and established that it would be possible to share aircraft, since Prestwick and Portrush are only 20 mins flying time apart, and many of the planes are based at Prestwick anyway, or at least refuel there.

The budget for the Northern Ireland Airshow is around £100,000, and it breaks even, but it is underwritten by the local authority and has a major sponsor. There was neither the time or the funding to organise an air show at Prestwick in 2013.

A more practical suggestion came from Adam Fergusson, leader of a group of pilots who gather regularly at Kilkerran, south of Ayr: an hour of aerobatics over Ayr Promenade. One of the pilots agreed to act as Director of Flight, but when he was forced to withdraw for reasons of scheduling, the plan fell apart.

David Lacey then proposed a pilots’ fly-in for light aircraft and microlights, which Prestwick Airport accepted, generously waiving landing fees. The pilots would arrive on the morning of Saturday 31 August, gather for lunch and a briefing in the Aviator Suite, and depart from 2.00pm onwards at regular intervals, flying south over Prestwick and Ayr promenades. It would have been a spectacular sight: a ribbon of aircraft over the sea, silhouetted against the background of Arran and Kintyre.

50 pilots signed up for the fly-in, but cross-winds on the runway at Prestwick meant that it had to be cancelled the night before.

Fortunately, Festival staff had discovered, well in advance, that the Red Arrows would be landing at Prestwick Airport that very afternoon for a refuelling and rest period, and persuaded them to do a small display. This was advertised in the South Ayrshire Post, and an estimated 5,000 people turned out to see them.

Discussions over the format and content of the air display resurrected the memory of the Scottish International Airshow, based at Prestwick from 1967 to 1992. Midway through the year the RAF announced that their 2013 air show at Leuchars would be the last, leaving the National Museum of Flight Air Show at East Fortune as the only air show in Scotland. East Fortune has only half a runway and no facilities for displaying or servicing visiting aircraft, so its potential for expansion is limited.

In September, Bob Chandler, George Kerevan and Danny Anderson travelled to Leuchars to find out from the Airshow organiser, Roz Clarke, what putting on an air show at Prestwick would entail. Then, at the end of November they met with representatives of the RAF, who are concerned to maintain their profile in Scotland, especially in 2014, the 50th anniversary of the Red Arrows, but only through collaborating with existing institutions.

There was no doubt that the revival of the Scottish International Air Show at Prestwick would be profitable for Prestwick Airport, the aerospace companies based there, and the expansion of tourism in South Ayrshire. But Prestwick World Festival of Flight had neither the financial resources nor the expertise to manage the project, though it could work closely with the organisers to enhance the visitor experience.

Back in 2012, when an air show was first rumoured, the Festival was approached by First Scotrail, offering extra trains for that weekend. In September 2013 P&O Ferries, who stand to profit from the Northern Ireland connection, approached the Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce, suggesting that they could be interested in sponsoring some aspect.

The current situation is that Danny Anderson of Zizys Events is working on an air show for 2014, to take place over the weekend of 6/7 September. This is the same weekend as the Northern Ireland International Air Show, so planes can be shared. It is also the weekend that RAF Leuchars would have taken place, a weekend already established in the public consciousness, so that the revival of the Scottish International Airshow could be seen as a continuation.

The Red Arrows over The Palace of Engineering