Expecting big crowds, Dayton Air Show to take flight July 22-23

Crowds are embracing air shows nationwide as CenterPoint Energy Dayton Air Show prepares for expected big crowds.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

The Dayton Air Show will take flight next weekend in an environment where the demand for air shows is stronger than it has been in the past decade, said John Cudahy, president of the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS).

In fact, air shows these days tend to be breaking longstanding attendance records.

“There’s obviously some pent-up demand following Covid,” Cudahy said. “But I think the numbers we’ve seen suggest something maybe a little bit more than that.”

The two-day CenterPoint Energy Dayton Air Show Presented by Kroger opens July 22 at Dayton International Airport and continues the next day.

It will be headlined this year by the Air Force Thunderbirds, continuing the show’s tradition of alternating Air Force and Navy flight demonstration teams, one of the few shows in the country that can reliably do that without fear of interruption.

Cudahy said he has seen a clear appetite for shows, particularly when the weather cooperates.

In the last 10 years, the air show industry has faced federal budget sequestration, which made military participation in air shows more difficult, as well as the global pandemic.

At one point during the pandemic, when “social distancing” was an imperative, shows attempted drive-in style formats that kept show-goers watching flights from their cars. In the spring of 2021, show organizers in Dayton initially planned that approach before pivoting to the traditional format — crowds milling about on airport tarmacs and fields, enjoying ground displays and flights.

While the 2021 Dayton Air Show saw a relatively tame 50,000 people over two days, attendance surged to 80,000 last year.

Last year’s high number did not surprise Cudahy.

“If the weather has been good and there aren’t complicating factors, it has been one of the most consistent things I’ve seen in my 25 years with ICAS, and that is just big numbers and very enthusiastic fans,” he said.

The Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau has estimated that the show has a $3.7 million economic impact.

“A huge difference this year”

But strong attendance can have a downside. When some 45,000 people attended the first day of last summer’s show, traffic substantially shut down in both directions around Interstate 75′s interchange with Northwoods Boulevard.

Ticket sales are pointing to another well attended show in Dayton this year.

Scott Buchanan, chairman of the U.S. Air and Trade Show, the nonprofit organization that produces the local show, said most air shows experienced problems with traffic last summer.

It’s a headache for any show, Cudahy said. “We hate that. We hate traffic problems.”

“Ours was a piece of cake compared to some of what we were hearing,” Buchanan said. “There were some shows that had to turn people around early in the morning because there was only one lane in.”

The plan Dayton organizers are pushing this year: Get to the show early, stake your claim on the grass or tarmac and enjoy static displays before flights start around noon (weather permitting).

“There’s a lot more on the ground than there used to be,” Buchanan said. “There are a ton of statics (static, ground-based displays). It’ll take you an hour or two to walk around and see everything.”

Static displays this year will include a pair of F-35s, a C-17 and KC-135, a KC-46, an A-10, CMV-22 Osprey, the historic DC3 “Flagship Detroit,” Fed-Ex 757 and more, many of the craft with crews and pilots nearby to answer questions

The show has taken steps this year to address traffic. The event now requires pre-paid parking.

Show leaders are asking visitors to buy vouchers for general admission before they attend the event. If a car gets in line and doesn’t have proof of paid parking, they will be removed from the line and moved to another area, a show representative said.

The hope is the new rule will eliminate the need to conduct a lengthy parking lot transaction with each vehicle.

You can buy show tickets on the Internet, at the gate and at Cincinnati- and Dayton-area Kroger stores starting July 21.

And the show has had a three-lane access road built to accommodate traffic coming off the Northwoods exits from Interstate 75. The entrance to the access road will be at Northwoods and Engel Road.

“It’s just really trying to open it up as much as we can,” Buchanan said.

Traffic on surface streets, off the interstate, will be directed to Falls Creek Drive, then right on Northwoods near the Kroger store, and from there to the new parking access road at Northwoods and Engel.

Kevin Franklin, the show’s executive director, said that plan was created with Vandalia police.

“It’s going to be a huge difference this year,” he said.

All interstate traffic, from north and south, will continue to egress at the Northwoods exit, being directed to dedicated lanes to general admissions parking.

A ‘flagship show’

Featured performers include not just the Thunderbirds flight demonstration team but the Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet West Coast Rhino demo team, the Army Golden Knights, flights by the F-15 Eagle, a MiG-17, the Red Bull helicopter and Red Bull skydiving team, the Wright B Flyer “White Bird” and more.

For tickets, general admission parking and more, go to DaytonAirShow.com.

Last month, for the first time in 16 years, the three-day Columbus Air Show opened at Rickenbacker International Airport. The first two days of the show sold out, and the Navy Blue Angels team performed.

Cudahy expects the Columbus show to be back next June. He does not believe it will conflict with the Dayton show.

About 70% of attendance at any U.S. air show comes within 60 miles of that show’s location, he said. That puts the Dayton and Columbus-area shows in “fundamentally different” markets, he said.

Dayton International Airport and Rickenbacker are about 80 miles apart.

“Dayton remains a flagship show of our industry,” Cudahy said. “It has been around for a very long time, and it has a management team that knows what they’re doing.

How to go

The CenterPoint Energy Dayton Air Show is July 22 and 23.

Buy tickets and general admission parking vouchers at DaytonAirShow.com. Show leaders encourage guests to buy parking vouchers before the show.

Where: East side of Dayton International Airport. Take exit 64 at Northwoods Boulevard from Interstate 75. Follow signs to the new general admission parking entrance at Northwoods and Engle Road.

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