Curious to see what other attendees thought of the airshow this year. I bought a Family ticket for my wife and I and our children, and I took a chance on grabbing an Ultimate ticket for myself as well for the opportunity to get on the apron at Prestwick to get photos of the participants, and for access to the premium areas on the day.
-- I arrived in Ayr just as the evening displays on the Friday got underway, and I only saw them from a distance, but from what I saw and what other attendees have said, this was a great start to the show, and one of the biggest talking points of the weekend. The pyrotechnic aircraft displays were fantastic and unusual, and the Typhoon display was a real standout - even from across the town, seeing the Typhoon eating up the night sky with reheats on was utterly stunning.
-- The night shoot seemed well organised in terms of getting people on the tarmac - getting through the gates, parked and briefed was handled smoothly, and once you were out there you were left alone to shoot whatever you could, provided you stayed within the assigned area. The apparent poor ticket sales for this meant the one-hour slots could be extended, though I was caught in traffic and only managed to get there in time to grab an hour taking photos. There were no barriers between you and the aircraft, but the lines of cones delineating the approved area were a bit of a pain for some shots. Ensuring aircraft security and visitor safety was obviously a concern, but there seemed to be enough staff/volunteers on hand to keep things in order if, say, a line had been marked on the ground instead - but overall, being able to get close to the planes without worrying about intrusive fencing or other barriers was great. More frustrating was that the lighting toward the far end of the aircraft lineup was pretty iffy, some aircraft were positioned where it was very difficult to get reasonable shots, and a few of the aircraft had canopies etc. covered. Some of this was unavoidable - poor weather etc. - but more consideration given to lighting and presenting the aircraft (as far as is possible, given the various restrictions and requirements at the airport) for the future would be good.
-- The Saturday show moved very smoothly, in spite of some unavoidable hitches - the Lancaster and MiG-15 going tech, Lauren Richardson's delay getting off the tarmac, poor weather. The SAR display was well-executed and got the show off to a good start, and the Falcons gave a good display. The Typhoon display was typically impressive, and the low light and high humidity meant plenty of condensation clouds and impressive reheat cones, and it was another crowdpleaser. The Aerosparx gave a lovely, graceful performance but in the daylight it lacked the "oomph" of the evening display. The Bronco/P-51/B-25 all turning up to fly formation before individual displays was a bit of a treat, and the Vampire solo and Nanchang were nice to see. The Blades finished off the first half in style, with a great, energetic performance that picked things up after the slower displays. First time seeing the Blades in action, and I was very impressed.
The second half fell a little flat by comparison. The MiG going tech meant that the planned MiG/Vampires display was tweaked to a Vampire pair display, and while the pilots gave a good performance it felt a little like a re-run of the earlier appearance - unavoidable though, and preferable to pulling that element of the display. The BBMF arrived in fairly mucky weather, just as the rain started, and that along with the absence of the Lancaster deflated their display a bit. The Catalina and Wee Dram were both good to see, though hampered by the drop in visibility and rain, but it was Lauren Richardson and her Pitts Special that stood out among these displays - great, high-energy performance, surprising the announcer at times, and it was another crowd-pleaser. The Red Arrows arrived on time, and they ended the show strongly, moving from a flat to a rolling display partway through their routine as the weather allowed, but I felt that if it hadn't been for Lauren Richardson, the second half would have been a bit of a letdown, particularly for anyone who was less of an enthusiast (for example, I loved seeing the BBMF, even in mucky weather and without Thumper, but I could see it being less impressive for others)
-- The Family area was set up well, with a large marquee and plenty of seating, toilets and live entertainment later in the day (including a CQC display by a team of commandos, which went down very well, especially when they posed for photos afterward!). The position on the flight line was good, and the raised area at the edge of the green and plenty of seating available meant that anyone with a Family ticket got the opportunity of good views of the action from a higher vantage point, and in a more secure area with shelter for the bad weather. Good presence from staff checking people in and out, and though the entertainment took a while to get going, it was a decent mix and suitable for families with young children.
-- By contrast, the Premium area felt pretty bare-bones, during the show at least - it may have livened up later, but we left not long after the Arrows. There was a good-sized marquee with free coffee, tea and biscuits (hot water urns, Nescafe packets, teabags and a tray full of chipped biscuits! ) and a small bar, but not much else (again, entertainment may have started in the early evening and we just missed it). As with the Family area, you also had access to a fenced-off viewing area at the front of the Green, at roughly the same elevation but a couple of hundred metres down the flight line. It was quieter than the Family area, but to my eyes there wasn't much to recommend it over the Family area in terms of photography, other than that you had a little more room to set up. Perhaps if the skies had been clearer and the sun had been more of an issue it might have made a difference, but as it was I did almost all of my photography from the Family area, though I used the Premium area for the Typhoon to give me a bit more chance to concentrate on what I knew was going to be a fast-moving, difficult subject, particularly in the light we had. The goody bag Premium visitors got was welcome - copies of the 2014, 2015 and 2016 programmes, a badge, card binoculars and a couple of other bits and bobs - but when I spent most of my time in the Family area it did feel as though the bag was all I got out of having Premium access!
-- The rest of the show went off well. The fairground rides were typically overpriced, but they were good for the kids, and the food stalls seemed well-attended and about as reasonably priced as you could expect. There was a good staff presence, and staff were clearly identifiable and helpful, and the various areas and key points were clearly marked and easy to find. The various armed forces stalls were busy and inviting, and the Red Arrow simulator seemed very popular! The announcing team and guest announcers were all great, with plenty of knowledge and they kept things moving smoothly throughout - and crucially kept everyone in the loop about display times and what to expect, and when key moments were coming up so that photographers were prepared to catch them. Parking was handled well, and though there was a bit of a trek through Ayr to the Green it was manageable, even with four children in tow.
All in all, I think it was something of a qualified success for the team behind the Airshow. The night display on the Friday was a great crowd-pleaser and a real novelty, and if the Airshow returns next year it's definitely one element I'd like to see again. The displays on Saturday were generally very good, though I think they needed at least one or two more energetic displays in the afternoon, or perhaps even just a juggling of the display sequence so that the second half opened with more of a bang - and to be fair, many of the small niggles were down to the kind of unavoidable things that could affect any show (weather, tech issues etc.) The night shoot on Friday was a good idea, and I'd like to see it return, but I think some consideration needs to be given to pricing. I spoke to a number of people who attended the shoot, and a number who didn't, and I kept hearing the same thing: that a ticket that offered access just to the night shoot would have been preferable for many who did attend, and that they knew many others who would have bought a ticket for that at, say, £30-40. Finally, the Premium facilities on the Saturday fell a bit flat, and while you have to be realistic about what's possible at the ticket prices charged, it did feel a little skimpy and poorly thought-out - and I wonder if there are better positions for photography for next year too. The other thing that I heard a few times was people who had been hoping for a static on the Sunday, and I think that would have been successful (particularly given that the weather shifted dramatically and we had a stunning summer day on the Sunday!)
If I was in charge of TSIA 2017 - and if I had the budget, available participants and flexible regulatory bodies/airports! - I'd be thinking about a few key things:
-- A three day event, opening with an evening display on the Friday, a full display on the Saturday and a static on the Sunday. There certainly seemed to be plenty of interest in a static display, and the evening display was a great opener to the weekend.
-- A night-shoot for enthusiasts on the Saturday evening, with a flat price of something like £30 for entry and flexible time slots - say an hour minimum, with longer slots depending on attendance numbers. You could still wrap the night-shoot into something like the Ultimate ticket, but don't lock the night-shoot behind such an expensive ticket, as I think it just limits the audience for it.
-- Secure the Blades, Lauren Richardson, Aerosparx and the Red Arrows ASAP. If at all possible, negotiate with the RAF to get a pair of Typhoons again and get an evening and daytime display running. For a show like this, I think big crowd-pleasers and high-energy displays are key draws, so get them early and build around that. That said, I loved the presence of Wee Dram and the Nanchang, both local, and if there are other suitable Scottish participants it would be great to get them involved too.
-- Get at least one or two photographers involved in the decision-making for positioning the premium areas and the night-shoot layout. There are certain things that are unavoidable that impact on photography - weather, airport regulations and flexibility etc. - but if you're going to offer events geared toward photographers, it would certainly be useful to have someone appropriate involved (assuming of course they didn't this year - it's possible they did, and the niggles about the shoot etc. were just unavoidable).
TSIA 2016 was a good show, with moments of brilliance, and I think there's great potential there for next year. Hopefully the team involved build on this year's show and we're back here next year after an even more successful show!