This year’s Dayton Air Show to cut attendance and offer ‘drive-in’ format

A thick crowd watches the performers on Saturday at the Vectren Dayton Air Show.   TY GREENLEES / STAFF
A thick crowd watches the performers on Saturday at the Vectren Dayton Air Show. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

The show will be back this year, but it will be different

The Dayton Air Show is back this year, but it will be different.

With social distancing in mind, the Dayton Air Show will reduce attendance at this year’s event, offer no static aircraft displays and a new format that will allow guests to park in a spectator, drive-in style lot.

Attendance will be reduced and some areas closed to accommodate health guidelines, show leaders said Wednesday. Guests will drive on to show grounds near the Dayton International Airport, where visitors can watch from private 20x20 viewing areas. No one will be allowed to walk in.

Terry Grevious, the show’s executive director, said in an interview Wednesday this format has been used at several other shows in other parts of the country.

“We’re not the first ones to do this in this pandemic environment,” he said.

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Ohio has a mass gathering ban in place that has not been lifted, Grevious noted. While that ban could be lifted in the future, organizers don’t know that. “Right now, the normal show is not allowed,” he said.

Show leaders decided they needed to make a decision on this summer’s format. Even if the mass gathering ban is lifted, the show will have no room to pivot.

“We flipped the switch today to go from normal to drive-in, and there’s no turning back,” Grevious said.

The show expects to accommodate about 4,000 cars a day. With six passengers per car, that could mean up to 24,000 guests a day — a far cry from the average 60,000 to 70,000 guests milling about on foot in previous years.

But part of the plan offered to public health officials was to reduce attendance. Said Grevious: “They signed off on that, too.”

Social distancing considerations are driving the sweeping changes. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended these kinds of public events worldwide, and last summer’s air show was called off.

“We can’t sustain our business with another year of no income,” Grevious said.

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While infections are down compared to January, they are rising again. The U.S. has averaged 65,000 new cases a day over the past week, a 19% increase over two weeks ago, the New York Times reported Wednesday. Increases are especially notable in nearby Michigan.

Specialty seating areas will not be available, and there will be no static aircraft displays, air show organizers said. The show will be broadcast over its public address system by announcers Rob Reider and Danny Clisham, and it will broadcast as well on FM radio.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have the Thunderbirds in 2021 and introduce this incredible drive-in show to Dayton,” Scott Buchanan, chairman of the United States Air & Trade Show board of trustees, producers of the show, said in Wednesday’s release from the show. “This new format is safe and will bring the utmost in convenience to our guests.”

An artist's rendering from the Dayton Air Show illustrating the new drive-in format being offered for the 2021 show. Contributed
An artist's rendering from the Dayton Air Show illustrating the new drive-in format being offered for the 2021 show. Contributed

Ticket prices start at $99 for up to 6 guests for general admission and front row “platinum” viewing areas for 6 guests for $199, the show said.

Restrooms will be nearby and mobile concessions with food, beverage and merchandise will travel the aisles, show officials said.

The 2021 CenterPoint Energy Dayton Air Show Presented by Kroger happens July 10-11.

This year’s headlining attraction will be the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. 2021 will mark the 47th anniversary of the event held annually at the Dayton International Airport.