U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds on Sunday at the Vectren Dayton Air Show. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Photo: Ty Greenlees
Photo: Ty Greenlees

Air show attendance takes dramatic drop

Show’s leaders say parking change is the cause

Vectren Dayton Air Show leaders are blaming a parking change for a 25 percent decline in attendance to the annual event that wrapped up Sunday.

An estimated 49,000 people visited the 45th Dayton air show Saturday and Sunday to see the Air Force’s Thunderbirds and other pilots perform, according to event officials. That’s down from around 62,000 visitors in 2018 when the Navy’s Blue Angels performed.

“We were very pleased with the number of people that attended and the show quality,” said Scott Buchanan, chairman of the United States Air and Trade Show Board of Trustees, producers of the event. “Our thanks to the dedicated spectators, sponsors and volunteers for their support of the show.”

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The attendance totals came in lower even as Buchanan said Saturday that he thought the show might have welcomed a “record crowd for the day.” Despite the attendance total announced Monday, Buchanan said he thought turnout was still “good” this year.

The air show’s attendance has varied widely throughout the last 10 years. A Dayton Daily News examination found that crowds tend to be bigger in years when military jet teams perform and the weather is good.

At its peak in the last decade, nearly 80,000 people visited the air show in 2009 when the Thunderbirds performed.

At its low point, around 23,000 guests attended the event in 2013.That was the same year the federal government’s budget sequestration canceled most Thunderbirds shows and a pilot and wing walker were killed in a crash at the Dayton show.

Parking was a likely cause for this year’s dip in attendance, officials said.

Instead of using its usual lots just outside the air show’s gates, the event had to relocate parking to paved lots because of recent and frequent rain. Rain also threatened to dampen this year’s air show as it took place, though the weather held out over the weekend.

“Patrons tend to avoid shows with shuttling because entry and exit can take longer especially if they arrive close to show time,” read a press release from the show.

Guests were shuttled on more than 60 buses from the former Emery/UPS Freight Facility north of the airport on Old Springfield Road. The decision to move parking was made after the air show had to tow cars out of its unpaved lots two years ago after rain soaked the area.

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Shuttling people to and from the show presented a new set of challenges for the event’s leaders this year, said Roger Doctor, director of public safety for the show.

“There were huge challenges,” Doctor said. “Any time you have to bus, it’s tough. It’s almost an impossibility.”

The air show plans to evaluate its parking and shuttling options for next year, Doctor said. If the show is forced to continue shuttling all visitors, Doctor said it’s likely going to be a “slow process” because there “just isn’t any way to speed that up.”

Typically, the show shuttles around 30 percent of its guests from another location, said both Buchanan and Doctor. Transporting all guests proved pricier, though officials could not provide a cost estimate as of Monday morning.

There were no accidents on the airfield this year, Doctor said. But, a black bi-plane flown by Skip Stewart did make an emergency landing Thursday evening on Tipp Elizabeth Road.

Only two or three visitors were transported to the hospital because of heat or other issues they suffered at the annual event, Doctor said. The mild weather, Doctor said, probably helped bring more visitors to the show and kept them there longer.

“Nothing was out of the ordinary at all,” Doctor said. “We had our typical few people that got ill from the sun…that’s really low and very good.”

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