OCEAN CITY — An amended Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the 2020 OC Air Show, including some contingency language if state directives on large gathering sizes or other COVID-19-related regulations change, was approved this week.
“This was first approved in January prior to COVID and it’s imperative to now include language specific to the health crisis,” said City Manager Doug Miller. “If something were to happen between now and the event in August, we’ve put in language that the event can be modified or even cancelled if need be.”
Air show officials are working closely with the town to implement a series of “Stay Safe and Separate” initiatives to take advantage of the wide-open spaces over the beach and Boardwalk to ensure physical distancing and other public safety measures.
There are plans in place to ensure the safety of guests and spectators, particularly at the designated venues such as the Drop Zone Beach, the Flight Line Club, the VIP Skybox and the VIP Penthouse, for example. Those venues will be increased in geographic size and a reduced number of tickets will be available at each venue. Officials also plan to mitigate lines at the venue entrances with additional entry points and by allowing early entry. There will also be provisions for six feet of separation between groups waiting to check in and contactless ticket scanning will be available along with individually-packaged wristbands guests can put on themselves.
In response to a question from the council, Special Events Director Frank Miller said the Worcester County Health Department had reviewed the changes and was satisfied.
“I sent an email to the county health department and I had a conversation with the health officer this morning,” he said. “She is happy with the revised plans. As of right now, the health department is happy with what we’re doing.”
Councilman Matt James questioned if the hosting the air show at the peak of the summer season was a good idea.
“I support the air show, but we really don’t need a major special event on a weekend in August,” he said. “I support the motion, but I just don’t understand it.”
Council President Lloyd Martin, however, said hosting the air show in August could be a panacea for the war-torn local community.
“The residents in town love this air show,” he said. “Hopefully, we can spread people out and they can enjoy it from all over. I think it’s the right thing to do.”
In terms of spreading attendees and beach-goers, a question was raised about having some of the participating acts alter their flight plans to fly further north and reach a larger audience without cramming everyone in around the show’s base at 17th Street. Miller said some of the civilian acts might be able to do that, but the high-profile military acts such as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, for example, adhere to a strict flight plan.
“In the past, we asked if they could extend their flights further north,” said Frank Miller. “The military shows are restricted to a pretty tight box and the shows are very regulated.”
Frank Miller said OC Air Show President Bryan Lilley was working with local producer Dave Messick and Unscene Productions to create a live stream of the air show.
“People on their condo balconies or out on boats or on the beach will be able to pick up the live stream and hear the video coordinated with the show going on above them,” said Frank Miller.
Another issue to resolve was the shuttle service provided by the town from the convention center to the show’s base in the area of 17th Street. Last week, the transportation committee recommended not providing the shuttle service this year in the interest of discouraging air show fans from cramming into one area. Martin said he supported not providing the shuttle, but did suggest adding more regular bus service to alleviate the huge traffic jams after the event.
“I do like the idea of spreading people out,” he said. “The shuttle brings all of those people into the same area. I think we should increase deployment of our regular bus service though.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight said people should be encouraged to enjoy the air show from all over the area.
“We need to remind folks they don’t need to come to 17th Street to enjoy the show,” she said. “The organizers have been saying the viewing area is a thousand feet high and 10 miles wide. That’s the mantra we need to get out there.”
The inclination was not to provide the shuttle, but a question was raised if the free shuttle was included as a perk for certain ticket holders.
“Historically, the shuttle from the convention center south lot has been part of the ticket sales effort,” said Frank Miller.
James asked ,“Have tickets already been sold that include the shuttle from the convention center? If that’s the case, we’re a little late.”
The decision on the air show shuttle was tabled until Monday to have the question answered.