This year's Atlantic City Airshow might not draw the record-breaking crowds of years past, but that doesn't mean it can't pack a significant economic punch, officials charged with marketing the show under new circumstances say.
Crowd estimates in one report by the Center for Regional and Business Research at Atlantic Cape Community College place attendance at last year's show at a record 908,000. While that number might prove unattainable Wednesday, the measure of success for Greater Atlantic City Chamber President Joe Kelly will be how many people come to the resort who wouldn't have come on a typical Wednesday in June, before the heart of the summer.
"If it's not as big of a day as an August event, that's OK. I'm looking at June a year ago versus June this year to see if we can be successful in extending the summer season," Kelly said. "Just like Miss America was designed to extend the season after Labor Day, we're hoping to extend the season the opposite way."
Announcements about the changes began last winter and kept coming in the months approaching the show. In December, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds released a schedule that didn't include a stop in Atlantic City for the first time in a decade. Then came the announcement of a June 26 performance date - marking both a return to midweek and the first show to take place in June, prior to the heaviest part of the tourist season.
Capping off the changes were a series of federal budget cuts that grounded nonessential military flying and left the show without a single military act for the first time in its modern history. Now shortened to about half the time of years past, with acts scheduled from noon to 3:30 p.m., this year's show will be made up entirely of civilian performers with a focus on vintage fighter planes.
"The interesting thing is, suppose there are less people and the economic impact is less. … It could still count more because nobody would have been here on a Wednesday in June," said Richard Perniciaro, director of Atlantic Cape's Center for Regional and Business Research. "Then all in all, it could be a better thing."
According to Perniciaro's study of the 2012 show, of the 908,000 people who watched the show, only 289,095 were people from outside the region who would not normally have been visiting on a typical Friday in August. Even by those measures, Atlantic City's airshow measures up as one of the largest in the country. Analysis of the show's economic impact, however, is based on what the 289,095 spend rather than the total crowd.
By those measures, last year's show brought an estimated $42 million in economic impact to the region. On average, each of the 289,095 who attended spent $36 on food and beverage, $29 on shopping, $22 on gambling and $10 on lodging, among other things.
Kelly said the chamber recognizes that it's especially important for this year's show to drive business, and some changes have been made to ensure the Boardwalk sees as much traffic as possible.
In years past, a VIP viewing area with seating that could be purchased on the beach was based at the Florida Avenue beach. That area will still exist, but only for corporate-sponsor seating. Individual seats will not be sold, he said.
"We honestly think that shifting the business toward the Boardwalk is a healthy thing," Kelly said.
That won't stop people from staking out a spot on the sand with an umbrella and beach chairs for the afternoon, but it will hopefully encourage some spectators to spend more time on the Boardwalk, where they'll hopefully make some additional purchases, particularly if they're not facing the long lines of years past, Kelly said.
The Atlantic City Alliance is also working to make sure people notice the show. Alliance spokesman Jeff Guaracino said that, unlike last year, the ACA is specifically including the airshow by name in its advertisements. The airshow is also taking place as part of a string of summer activities promoted by the alliance, including the World Championship of Sand Sculpting and Offshore Grand Prix Powerboat Racing. Today's Atlantic City Salutes the Armed Forces Parade on the Boardwalk also leads into the show.
"What we've found is that people outside of the Atlantic City area really didn't know about some of the things that were going on here. The airshow is one of the things we've specifically included in our advertising," Guaracino said.
Stringing events together is a good way to drive additional business, Perniciaro said. After people visit the shore once early in the season, they're more likely to keep visiting, he said.
Organizers have put a focus on attempts to draw out activities around the show to encourage people to stay in the region longer, particularly with the addition of the armed forces parade in 2011.
Yet Perniciaro's study shows that on average each person spends just $10, with many people taking a day trip or staying with family and friends. With some attendees staying overnight for more than one night, the study estimated that last year's show drew an additional 15,829 room nights.
That number has the potential to increase with a midweek June date in part because rooms will be available, he said.
"Even if the show doesn't do as well as it did in years past, it will be another advertisement for things at the shore being normal again, and that can have an impact," Perniciaro said. "It's sort of a wait-and-see thing."
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Noon: National anthem
12:03 p.m.: The 4CE Aerobatics
12:15 p.m.: Jim Beasley Jr. Spitfire demo
12:25 p.m.: Warrior Aviation L-39 Solo
12:32 p.m.: Warrior Aviation YAK-9 Solo
12:38 p.m.: Warrior Aviation Formation Flights
12:45 p.m.: Raiders Solo YAK-52 Demo
12:55 p.m.: PPG Dan McClung Pitts Aerobatics
1:10 p.m.: Firebirds Aerobatic Team
1:25 p.m.: Matt Chapman CAP580 Aerobatics
1:38 p.m.: Jim Beasley Jr. P-51 Demo
1:50 p.m.: USAF Heritage Flight from USAF Heritage Foundation
2 p.m.: Raiders Aerobatic Team (4-ship)
2:20 p.m.: Bill Stein Extra 330 Aerobatics
2:32 p.m.: To be determined
2:45 p.m.: Rob Holland MX-2 Aerobatics (World Unlimited Aerobatic Champion)
3 p.m.: Geico Skytypers (6-ship)
3:30 p.m.: Airshow ends
To see the practice
The main event starts at noon Wednesday, but those who really want to avoid the crowds or see the show two days in a row can come out Tuesday, when most of the acts will perform test flights in advance of the show. Practice follows roughly the same schedule as Wednesday.
What: Airshow practice; When: Noon to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Atlantic City beaches; Cost: Free
Guide to the 2013 airshow
When: Noon to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: The best views are from Atlantic City’s beaches, but much of the show is viewable from Brigantine to Ventnor.
Viewing from the water: Viewing from the ocean is welcome, but a no-boat zone will be set up approaching Atlantic City’s beaches restricting boaters from getting too close.
Viewing for the disabled: There is a viewing area at the pavilion at Montpelier Avenue and the Boardwalk. Space is limited and will be restricted to those in wheelchairs who cannot access the beach. Handicapped parking is available on Albany Avenue, which has an accessible ramp for entrance onto the Boardwalk.
Things to bring: Sunscreen, sunglasses, light clothing, snacks, bottled water, cameras, binoculars and earplugs.
Restrooms: Portable bathrooms will be located along Atlantic City’s beaches.
If there’s an emergency: Medical tents and lifeguards will be stationed along Atlantic City’s beaches.
Mobile: Keep up to date with the latest on the show at ACAIR.me. The mobile website will have live video of the show, news updates, photos and Twitter updates from The Press of Atlantic City.
On Twitter: Follow @ACPressJennifer, @wjmckelvey and @ACPressLee for live tweets from the airshow. Use #acpress in your airshow tweets to see them show up in The Press of Atlantic City’s live feed.
Atlantic City Expressway, Welcome Center parking lot: The lot is located at milepost 4 eastbound on the expressway. Jitneys will provide transportation from the lot to Indiana Avenue and the Boardwalk between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. $20 per vehicle.
Bader Field: The lot is located on Albany Avenue. Jitneys will provide transportation from the lot to Albany Avenue and the Boardwalk between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. $20 per vehicle.
Other parking: Casino parking garages, The Wave parking garage on Fairmount Avenue and other open-air lots throughout the city will be open. Rates vary.