30 August 2010

The 2010 Classic Air Rallye

August 28 and 29 was the 2010 edition of this event, now in its fifth year. Even though it is billed as an "Air Rallye" it is really a small airshow and is held at Ottawa/Rockcliffe Airport, right next to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, a great location and right in the City of Ottawa.

The show promo bills the show with these words: "Unlike traditional "Boom and Zoom" air shows, this event takes us back to a quieter, and in some ways, more gentle age. Our primary focus is on providing an attractive venue and event for owners and pilots of vintage and classic aircraft who appreciate the chance to bring out their treasures for our mutual appreciation."

This year marked a first for the Rallye, it was the first year that they didn't get at least one day of rain or otherwise suffer from bad weather. Late August is usually a pretty dry time of year in Eastern Ontario, but the Rallye's chosen time slot on the last weekend before Labour Day just seems to have been jinxed by the climate change demons in the past. But not this year, Saturday saw clear skies, light winds and 28C. Sunday was identical, but hit 30C. It seemed like an ideal year for the Rallye: ideal location in the city, ideal summer weather and even lots of parking and transit connections. And yet the people didn't come in very large numbers. I didn't get an official count on the Saturday when I was there, but I would be surprised if 500 people showed up. For most of the day the organizers, security and participants outnumbered the visitors. You can see the lack of crowds in the video that I shot of the show.

The Rallye used to compete with the bigger show at Ottawa/Carp Airport, but that show died a couple of years ago. The Air Rallye attendance this year contrasted strongly with the Vintage Wings Open House and Airshow that was held at Gatineau Airport on the 4 July weekend. Reports indicate that there were 25,000 people there for that event. I even confirmed that with an ice cream vendor who was at both events. At Gatineau he sold $25,000 worth of ice cream in a couple of hours, at Rockcliffe he was lonely, despite the warm day and sunshine. Both shows largely featured the same aircraft from Vintage Wings, although the Snowbirds did perform at Gatineau. Since everyone in Canada has seen them so many times they don't seem to be a big draw on their own anymore. The Air Rallye was well advertised, too, with lots of posters up all around town, newspaper and radio ads and more. Fewer people live close to Gatineau Airport than Rockcliffe, so it is hard to understand why turn out for the Air Rallye was so low.

I asked a number of people at the Air Rallye where they thought the people were. COPA President and CEO Kevin Psutka suggested maybe the weather was too nice and that with fall around the corner most people went to the cottage or the beach instead. He thought that an overcast day might have brought out more people. Some other pilots posited that the show is too slow paced, with only fly-bys and no jets (other than one very quiet Challenger) or aerobatics, so it doesn't grab much attention.

The biggest factor suggested by most pilots I talked to was the price. The Air Rallye costs $20 per person to get in, with kids under 12 free and includes admission to the museum as well. This compares favourably to airshows like Abbotsford, which was $35 per person this year, but then Abbotsford is a much, much bigger show. A number of people mentioned that the July Gatineau show was free, which is hard to compete with. It is possible that if people were going to go to one airshow in the area that they chose "free".

Airshow attendance this year seems to be generally down, with Oshkosh reporting far fewer visitors, although due to the way the organizers have reported numbers there in the past it is hard to compare Oshkosh attendance figures from year to year. Certainly people who did go to Oshkosh this year indicated that there were not very many people there, compared to past years.

So is it just that the Air Rallye is too small, too expensive and is competing with a free airshow, or is is something else, like the economy, that kept people away?