(March 1, 2013) Despite its continuing popularity, the OC Air Show may be facing two profound logistical threats to its success in the 2013 season, show organizer Bryan Lilley told the City Council this week.
Firstly, the event’s headline performers may be unable to attend due to federal spending cuts and, secondly, even if they do show up, they might not have anywhere to sleep.
Show organizers typically request local hoteliers to block out sections of rooms during the event to house performers and staff. But acquiring the desired room groups is proving to be difficult, Lilley said, given that the event-choked weekend has caused many hotels to book their rooms at open market rate due to demand.
“It continues to be a challenge every year, and this year particularly so,” Lilley said.
He has lost a commitment from the Beach Plaza hotel, but gained one from the Clarion. He has secured only 49 rooms per night, versus last year’s 71.
“As you know, we need places to house our performers, and when we get to the point where we start to lose these rooms, it’s going to compromise the groups that we can get in here,” Lilley said. “Anything the council can do to encourage the hotel community in assisting these teams [would be appreciated].”
Although he said he understood that Lilley had already done so, Mayor Rick Meehan suggested that he go back to the city’s Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association with the matter.
“I would hope that they would continue to work with you and these sponsors,” Meehan said.
However, according to HMRA Executive Director Susan Jones, local hotels are unlikely to engineer their bookings in Lilley’s favor, given that the glut of other events has made the market so rich. The OC Car and Truck Show is the same weekend as the air show, June 9-10, as are several major sports tournaments, including the city’s flagship lacrosse competition.
“We tried to encourage him [Lilley] to have his event on the first weekend in June,” Jones said, but the air show was unreceptive.
“Unfortunately, I don’t feel that the hotels are going to budge from their stance, because demand is so high.”
But the room shortage may be less of a problem if the performers end up being unable to attend. Meehan asked Lilley whether he had a contingency plan in the case that federal sequestration – the automatic budget cuts that are slated to take place today, Friday, unless a deal is reached in Washington – reduces or eliminate the schedules of the show’s top armed forces performers.
Headliners this year include the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the army’s 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles” parachute jump team, and the F-22 Raptor demonstration unit – a rare showing of the U.S. military’s only fifth-generation aircraft that Lilley described as “the premiere single-aircraft show that you can get.”
“That is something that has come out … that the Navy has suggested that, if full sequestration takes place, the Blue Angels could be part of those cuts,” Lilley acknowledged. “But we are going on what the teams are telling us right now, which is that they are continuing planning for a full show.”
However, Lilley said his team has “already come up with detailed plans in a ‘what-if’ scenario.”
Even if the military performers are lost, Lilley said, the OC Air Show’s combination of a strong slate of civilian shows, beach location, and the elimination of competition shows elsewhere should still ensure its survival.
“We feel that beachfront air shows are in the best position to weather any reduction or loss of military support,” Lilley said. In the case of such shows, the aerial performances are less of the destination themselves and more of a draw for attendees to spend time at the resort; “flying fireworks,” in Lilley’s terms.
“[The air show] is a factor to wanting to spend a weekend at the beach,” he said, “whereas if you go to an air facility, you’re going there entirely for what is there from an aviation perspective … so those [performance] assets factor in a lot more when it comes to an airfield show.”
Other shows across the county have already shut their doors and if sequestration occurs, the military’s open house shows will cease.
“If you combine the contraction of the business with people’s desire to come and do a beach weekend and see an air show for free [it adds to Ocean City’s advantage],” Lilley said.
“I just wanted to make sure the public heard that, from a positive standpoint,” Meehan said. “That we’ll have the Blue Angels, but if something happens, we’ll still go through.”
Unlike many other privately run events, which are charged by the city for the in-kind services they incur, the city subsidizes the air show as a profit-sharing partner. Under the current arrangement, the city loans $50,000 annually to the air show, on an indefinite line of credit that Lilley does not have to repay before the next year’s event.
The show is instead obligated to give 35 percent of its profits to the city, a sum of $19,902 for the 2012 event.