Thunderbirds Unavailable For 2011 Air Show

OCEAN CITY – The resort’s 2011 Air Show dates will be one of the first matters brought to the newly created Tourism Advisory Board, which will get straight to work at this week’s Mayor and City Council Meeting.

Brian Lilley, Air Show Coordinator, proposed two date options for next summer season’s event – June 3-5, 2011 or June 10-12, 2011.

The business community has said publicly it would like the event to be held the weekend after Memorial Day, or the first weekend of June, while Lilley expressed his desire to conduct the Air Show on the second weekend of June, for a few reasons.

The number one reason being that unfortunately this upcoming summer the US Air Force Thunderbirds will not be returning for their third year performance in Ocean City, due to a European tour.

The US Navy Blue Angels are also unavailable to perform because their 2011 schedule is completely booked. Also, the Canadian Air Force Snowbirds are unable to perform because their U.S. shows are scheduled before Memorial Day so they can return to Canada to perform in shows in their home country.

The loss of the Thunderbirds and the unavailability of other teams have had Lilley pursue two other possibilities – the US Air Force F-22 Raptors and the US Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier demo team.

“From the standpoint of the best opportunity to get the Raptor and/or Harrier demo teams, June 11 and 12, is by far our better opportunity to do so,” Lilley said.

According to Lilley, the June 3-5 window is a little outside of the peak senior week window and will damage the potential military recruiting aspect of the event.

“One of the reasons we have gained so much stature so quickly is because of the number of high school graduates that are here for senior week,” Lilley said. “Recruiting is the primary reason mission of all these demo teams…and if we loose that in a year, how is that going to effect us in moving forward.”

According to a letter written by Ocean City Special Events Director John Sullivan, last summer the event was held on the first weekend of June, which resulted in the show being down significantly in ticket sales, food and beverage revenue and merchandise revenue. Also, last year’s event did not draw nearly as many people as the previous year because the children were not out of school and moving the show to the June 3-5 weekend would be even worse.

In 2008, the Air Show was held on the second week of June. Lilley recalls businesses calling it the most successful weekend they have had ever had in June.

According to Lilley, the demoflush count in 2009, when the Air Show was held on the second weekend of June, was 260,000. In 2010, when the Air Show was held on the first weekend in June, the demoflush count was 205,000.

Last summer other events that took place along with the Air Show, on the first weekend in June, were the OC Car and Truck Show, the Marines Challenge, Sand Duels Beach Soccer, Army PT Challenge and the Ravens Roost Convention and Parade.

According to Lilley, the Ravens Roost Parade presented a challenge last year. That event is scheduled for June 4, 2011, so if the Air Show takes place on the second weekend then that challenge will not exist.

In the past, the Maryland State Firemen’s Convention has caused a challenge when held the same weekend as the Air Show, but the 2011 convention will be held June 18-24, also eliminating any complicating factors.

“We don’t want to have a bad show,” Lilley said. “We need to balance what is good for the Air Show in 2011, the future, also what’s good for the community, what’s good for tourism, and what’s good for spectators.”

Councilman Joe Hall did not feel comfortable in passing Lilley’s recommendation on returning to the event to the second weekend in June.

“The idea is to try to grow a weekend,” he said. “I believe the group you should meet with and flush out the weekend that will be best for your show is the Tourism Advisory Board that we just acknowledged…and come back with a recommendation of what weekend is best for business in Ocean City.”

Hall moved his thought into a motion and was second by fellow council member Margaret Pillas.
Councilwoman Mary Knight disagreed with Hall’s motion.

“I have a lot of respect for our new Tourism Advisory Board but I would think you [Lilley] know a little bit more about the Air Show, the intricacy, what brings people to town, what acts to do, more then any of us,” she said. “With that said, I think we should go with that recommendation and go with the second week in June.”

Hall rebutted, “While you’re an expert in an Air Show, the new board are experts in tourism in Ocean City and know where we need the best impact.”

Hall’s motion to remand the matter to the advisory board was passed in a vote 6-1, with Knight in opposition. After that meeting, the discussion will continue with the full council.

“It seems very clear to me that we would be taking a significant amount of risk with the show and the future of the show, if we were to go with that earlier date,” Lilley said.