The air show takes almost a full year of preparation, said Roger Doctor, public safety director for the air show. He said security protocols have not changed this year after recent mass shootings. He said the air show isn’t a “soft target,” with police officers very present.
Security personnel will be placed at each gate entrance, and police officers will be around the air show grounds to provide security. Guests’ bags and belongings will be checked for prohibited items.
They also prepare for crashes and disasters involving aircraft. Last year, a Thunderbird jet flipped over after taxiing at the Dayton International Airport.
» PHOTOS: The Dayton Air Show through the years
The crash happened on June 23 prior to the air show and injured Pilot Capt. Erik Gonsalves and Tactical Aircraft Maintainer Staff Sgt. Kenneth Cordova. The F-16 sustained significant damage, and the Thunderbirds cancelled all performances at the air show.
The Thunderbirds jet mishap was the first major aviation-related incident at the air show since the fatal crash of a wing walker and a pilot in front of thousands of spectators on June 22, 2013.
John Cuday, president of the Virginia-based International Council of Air Shows, said air shows are safe for spectators. No spectator at an airshow — which has different rules than air races — has been killed since the 1950s because of safety measures in place, he said.
“There is no motor sport in the world that has the safety record of spectators that we do,” he said.
The danger is primarily to pilots, he said.
“The flying that these guys do is more dangerous than standard flying, but they take this risk knowingly” and mitigate risk, he said.
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In what he described as a four-legged stool, the first safety measure is distance between pilots and people. Small planes, for example, stay at least 500 feet away from spectators. Jets operate up to 1,500 feet away.
“I’ve actually charted where the wreckage has landed and that system has acted precisely as it was to work,” he said.
Additionally, pilots’ knowledge and flight routines are evaluated every year. Acrobatic maneuvers toward spectators are banned, and an acrobatic sky box sets aside restricted airspace for performances.
“That’s the four-legged stool we have come to rely on and it’s worked very, very effectively to protecting spectators,” he said.