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Part I - Evolution of air shows in the 21st century

Updated: Mar 12

August 19, 2022 | By Commander Vimal Nagpal (retired), Naval Aviation Veteran and Aerospace Industry Expert at Gravitas Consulting | Aerospace

Surya Kirans - Acrobatic Team of the Indian Air Force
Surya Kirans - Acrobatic Team of the Indian Air Force


Air shows are always exciting for the spectators and manufacturers of aircraft both fixed wing and rotary wing. These are events that showcase the developments in aircraft capabilities. Endurance of commercial aircraft and swiftness, range, different weapons, and missile-carrying capabilities for the military aircraft. The wide-ranging aerial acts, displays, thrilling performances, and stunts in the air by skilled military aircraft pilots are always part of the attraction for the public. National pride and patriotism excite crowds to throng these shows and cheer their skilled aviators.

A history of air shows/aero shows

In 1909-10 small groups of aviators got together and held the first international meeting known as the Rheims aviation meeting or the "Grande Semaine d'Aviation de la Champagne". This is believed to be the first air show. The gathered aviators flew their machines to promote aviation and entertain the masses and show their flying skills. They began to compete on who could perform the best stunts, fly the highest, fastest, farthest, stay airborne the longest or carry maximum passengers.

This first major international air show attracted close to 500,000 spectators.

The show's organizers were forced to meet the challenge of converting grape fields of the region into a place that could accommodate the expected crowds, pilots of their airplanes, and a quick maintenance area for airplanes to make them fly worthy. Organizers had to specially build grandstands, various static display stands, press facilities, and restaurants for the air show. It set the precedent for all future air shows.

Grande Semaine d'Aviation de la Champagne
Grande Semaine d'Aviation de la Champagne

Significance of air shows

Many air shows are held to promote economic activity, encourage tourism, or raise the profile of an area and the economic benefits it brings. It could be to promote an airport or sometimes even a local town's cultural heritage. Leading to the investment of capital in the local economies - in shops, hotels, and businesses alike. The above criteria for organizing air shows have become more profound in countries that want to promote their cities that are on the path of fast development. The types of shows vary greatly. Some are large-scale military events with large flying displays and ground exhibitions, some are held at small local airstrips or near beaches where people gather and can often feature just one or two hours of flying with a few stalls on the ground.

Air shows are driven by several factors viz. the weather, visibility, and season.

Aviation authorities publish rules and guidance on minimum display heights and criteria for differing conditions including local airspace restrictions.

Pampanga Air Show, Philippines
Pampanga Air Show, Philippines

The footprint of aviation and air shows around the world

As there are different seasons in different countries around the globe, the airshows or air seasons vary around the world.

In the US, the air season is from spring to fall. In Europe, aero shows are conducted between early May to October. In the Middle East, between January to March. India has its air show in February in Bangalore.

The period in between the air season is normally for performance practice of the pilots and maintenance activities.

Continue to follow this space for part II of our aviation series posts.

About the author

Commander Vimal Nagpal - Retired Naval Veteran

Commander Vimal Nagpal is a retired Naval veteran with over 35 years of experience in Aerospace, Business Development, Operations, and Leadership.

Vimal believes in leading from the front and leveraging his strong acumen for developing teams for business growth. During his career in the Navy and the commercial sector, Vimal has set up and led new organizations, establishing strategic plans, procedures, and operations successfully. Vimal is the Aerospace Industry expert at Gravitas Consulting.

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