Whether the next Atlantic City Airshow will take place in June or August remains to be seen, but whatever date is picked, organizers are confident it will be a different show than the scaled-back version seen this year.
“I believe next year we’re going to see military flybys approved again, and for shows with static displays, I think those will be approved again, too,” said David Schultz, whose company coordinates Atlantic City’s airshow and dozens of others like it each year. “But the tactical demos and the jet teams, there’s a lot more money involved there with the Pentagon brass, so it’s not as clear what will happen.”
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels typically announce their lineups at the International Council of Air Shows convention in December at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Conference Center, but companies such as Schultz’s usually have an idea of what to expect by late summer or early fall. Atlantic City puts in its application for jet team participation two years before each show, Schultz said.
Last week’s show was reduced to about half the length of the six-hour marathon airshows of recent years after federal budget cuts prevented military participation. Unlike many cities, which canceled their shows entirely, Atlantic City opted to put on an abbreviated show. Civilian acts often are double the expense of military ones, so the show had to be shortened, organizers said.
Atlantic City is one 157 shows across the globe that committed to going forward in 2013. Forty-seven shows canceled as of May 31, according to data provided by the International Council of Air Shows.
“No one really anticipated the crowds from years past. Everyone had realistic expectations going into this,” said Jeff Guaracino, a spokesman for the Atlantic City Alliance, a nonprofit marketing group that helped spread the word about the show. “We applaud the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce for pulling it off rather than just canceling like other major cities have done.”
Atlantic City emergency management officials estimated 400,000 people watched the show from Atlantic City’s beaches and Boardwalk, rather than the 908,000 estimated in 2012. Unlike many shows, Atlantic City’s is a free, unticketed event, leaving police estimates as the only overall gauge of attendance.
The South Jersey Transportation Authority tracks vehicle counts through the Pleasantville toll plaza on the Atlantic City Expressway, one of the major routes into the city. Eastbound traffic through the toll plaza between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. the day of the show came in at 19,470 vehicles, compared to a typical Wednesday in June when 15,880 vehicles pass through the plaza, said Kevin Rehmann, a spokesman for SJTA.
That represents a nearly 23 percent increase over an average June Wednesday but doesn’t come close to approaching the boost in traffic seen in recent years. Last year, when the show took place on a Friday in August, traffic between those hours was up 37 percent over a typical Friday. In 2011, when the show was on a Wednesday in August, traffic was up 43 percent.
Business reviews were mixed following last week’s show. While the Boardwalk was by no means empty, a number of business owners said they saw a more significant boost in years past. Organizers hoped that holding the show before the heart of the summer might help to get out the message that most of Atlantic City was not affected by Hurricane Sandy.
“We did pretty well, but the numbers weren’t like they were last year because of the reduced size of the show,” said Brian Conley, owner of White House Sub Shop on Arctic Avenue. “I think the idea of having it in August is better, but I see the point of folks who put it on. It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.”
What is clear is the fact that participation by military jet teams draws larger crowds. Even prior to the announcement of the federal budget cuts, Atlantic City was preparing to go forward with a show that did not include a Thunderbirds performance for the first time in a decade. Atlantic City lost its spot in the lineup to an Asian tour the Thunderbirds were expecting to take, Schultz said.
“Atlantic City is one of those venues that is a large-market type venue with a large crowd. It’s one of those markets (the Thunderbirds) try to support as much as they can,” Schultz said. “Typically every two years the Thunderbirds do an overseas tour for six to eight weeks to show the flag there, too. I believe in the future those international tours aren’t going to be as prevalent.”
A bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, in April would ensure that domestic performances by military demonstration teams are prioritized over international performances. The bill, already passed by the House of Representatives, institutes a two-year moratorium on performances at shows outside the United States for the demo teams. The Senate has yet to vote on the measure.
LoBiondo cited the economic impact the Atlantic City Airshow has on the region when describing the need for the bill. A study by Atlantic Cape Community College’s Center for Regional and Business Research estimated the economic impact of the 2012 show at $42.5 million. It’s not yet clear whether another study on the impact of this year’s show will be completed.
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