Inside the 2022 Brisbane Airshow
You may have attended an airshow as a spectator, but do you know what goes on behind the scenes? In this article Aero Circus details their experience as an exhibitor at the 2022 Brisbane Airshow held at Watts Bridge in July 2022.
A long journey
More than two years ago, Aero Circus had decided to attend the Brisbane Airshow as an exhibitor. The plan was to promote our then brand new book ‘Refine Your Flying Skills’. What better way to showcase the book than to physically put it in the hands of potential customers and have a one-on-one discussion about their particular needs and situation?
Exhibition and camping site fees were paid, and the somewhat expensive and time-consuming process of planning and preparation was begun.
Then in March 2020, the world as we knew it started to unravel. COVID caused two postponements. But despite the third ‘Omicron ‘wave heading our way, the airshow was looking good to go on the 2 & 3 July 2022.
Weather or not to proceed
However, a couple of days before the show was due to kick off, the organisers made the call to (yet again) postpone the show, this time for one week. This was based on a weather forecast more appropriate to the ‘wet season’ rather than our traditionally dry winters. With the benefit of hindsight, this turned out to be the right move.
In the days leading up to the show the area received around 100mm of rainfall. During summer this would have been annoying. But in winter (or the ‘dry’ season as it should be in the sub-tropics) that much rain is going to cause problems at the best of times.
The RAAF goes hi tech – just paint an F35 on a balloon and call it a stealth bomber, nobody will know the difference
To make things worse, a summer of La Nina weather patterns had brought ridiculous amounts of rain to the east coast of Australia. In Brisbane we had already suffered four floods for the season, ranging from minor to catastrophic. As a result, the soil had been saturated and even a small amount of rain could not be absorbed into the ground. Combine that with cool winter temperatures that impeded evaporation, and you have the makings of a swamp larger than some small countries.
Another consequence of the rain delay with short notice was that many people had other commitments on the new dates and could not attend. In our case one team member had to come up a day late and take unscheduled time off work, risking losing his job.
So, two years and one week late, it finally happened, under (mostly) clear blue skies and gentle winds. Perfect conditions for an airshow. What could possibly go wrong?
Bird’s eye view of the airshow in full swing
One of the repercussions of the soggy conditions was that our intended campsite, originally a short 50 metre walk from our display stand, had extensive puddles of standing water that refused to go away. As a result, all the campers including ourselves had to be relocated to Toogoolawah Showgrounds, some 11km away.
This introduced a raft of logistics problems centred around trying to be in two places at one time. It also threw our plans of hosting an onsite BBQ for customers and friends into total disarray. Unfortunately, we were not advised of this change until late Thursday night. This was less than 12 hours before we were scheduled to leave for the airshow. Hence, we had already purchased and packed large amounts of food and drink which, as it turned out, we would largely not be able to use. We had also invested quite a bit of time and money into creating infrastructure, most of which will have no further use.
From the general public’s perspective, there was little to complain about regarding the actual aerial displays. Paul Bennet and his team provided the usual breathtaking performances, backed up by many other top-quality displays of aerobatic aircraft, warbirds, and aerobatic warbirds.
However just getting into the venue on the Saturday caused more than a little angst for a large number of attendees. The small town of Esk is normally about a 75-minute drive from Brisbane City. It marks the beginning of the last leg of the journey from Brisbane or the Gold Coast to the 2022 Brisbane Airshow.
The roughly 20km drive from Esk to the airshow venue at the Watts Bridge Memorial Airfield usually takes less than 20 minutes. One of our team left Esk just before 10am and finally arrived at our display stand well after 1pm. He reported that many people in the traffic queue had turned around and gone home in disgust. We could still see the line of cars out on the road waiting to get in around 2pm.
The reasons for the traffic chaos are unclear, at least to us. It may have been bad luck in as much as everyone turned up at the same time. It may have been due to the soft wet ground in the parking areas. However, we had experienced seemingly unnecessary delays ourselves on the previous day as the hired ‘professional’ traffic controllers felt the need to have a lengthy chat with every vehicle trying to access the venue. But whatever the issues, the same problems did not seem to recur on the Sunday, even though crowd numbers were the same.
The unseasonal rain had many other impacts on the show. Airside, the taxiways were quite soft, and the fuel truck got bogged on Friday between the crowd and the runway. It was still there when we left on Sunday night.
Behind the fence, some of the heavier display aircraft were slowly succumbing to gravity. Almost all the spectator areas were soft, if not soaking wet, and the organisers brought in large amounts of sawdust to help soak this up.
Well, that’s one way to get free advertising!
One of the caterers had brought an old Atlantean bus which they used to prepare and serve food. This had sunk up to the chassis and was threatening to become a feature of the airfield for some time.
Bill’s Boggers – might become a permanent fixture
Cars were getting bogged in the carparks and access roads were badly churned up. Anyone without a 4WD was playing Mudbog Roulette.
Technology to the rescue
If you think cash is dead in 2022, think again.
What happens when 10,000 people, each one with a mobile phone, all descend on a usually quiet rural area that normally hosts a few hundred people? The internet dies. Or more specifically, the local mobile phone tower(s?) could not handle the sudden and massive increase in bandwidth requirements. As a result, people were having trouble using anything relating to the internet. Coverage would come and go but was far from reliable at any time over the weekend.
In anticipation of these issues, the organisers had ordered backup systems a couple of months prior to the show. However well after the show has been and gone, their order is still in ‘provisioning’ with the supplier. At the current rate, it may or may not be ready for next year.
I think the technology from when this was new was more reliable
The biggest problem resulting from this was that none of the food vendors or exhibitors (including ourselves) could reliably use their EFTPOS facilities. The event had regressed to the 1980’s, except that the ‘click clack’ manual imprinters – that were used as backups back then when the electronic systems failed – were no longer available.
For us, this meant only one solitary EFTPOS sale went through for the whole weekend. While we did make a few cash sales, we lost other sales due to the internet failure.
On the Sunday, the organisers did try to mitigate the internet problems by asking all attendees to turn off Mobile Data on their phones. We suspected about 80% of attendees wouldn’t know how to do this and the other 30% wouldn’t care. It did make a little difference, but there were still long periods with no reception for us. Also, the announcer tried to baffle us with technology by referring to “a problem with the electron thing”. Over my head, unfortunately.
The day after we returned home, we spotted a news article about the exact same problem affecting the town of Bright in Victoria. When an influx of tourists swells the population 10-fold, the town virtually shuts down as everything that relies on internet connectivity fails.
We suspect that if we wait for the telcos or the government to fix this problem, we might be waiting a while. In Bright, business owners are creating their own DIY wireless networks. Clearly organisers of large events in rural areas will have to do the same for the foreseeable future. Until that breaks the NBN. Ah, technology.
This issue seems to parallel something we keep hearing about in aviation regarding the reliance on magenta lines or some such.
The back street boys
By decree of the organisers, our stand was located in Education Alley. Prior to the show we thought that this would be great as it would attract anyone wanting to learn more about the finer points of aviation.
The grass is indeed greener on the Aero Circus side of the fence
In reality, we were in company with an Army/Navy recruitment stand, the RAAF stand (the only apparent purpose was to provide free VR ‘rides’ to punters), Air Cadets (aiming to recruit 8 to 18-year-olds into aviation), a drone licence training group and Angel Flight. None of these had any affinity with our mission, which is to provide critical information to pilots that is generally not available anywhere else.
Worse still, the constant queue for the RAAF stand forced anyone walking down Education Alley to the far side of the thoroughfare and well away from our stand. And because we were in a ‘back street’, most of the foot traffic bypassed us completely. In fact, some friends who had come to see the show still took over an hour to find us after phoning us to find out where our stand was.
The exact same setup at previous airshows has yielded much better results for us. When measured by the number of entries that we attracted into our free competition to win prizes worth over $540, the last airshow at Evans Head in 2020 (which had its own weather problems) yielded over 3 times more entries with much smaller crowd numbers.
We spoke to many of the exhibitors at the show and there were some common themes. The recent wet weather had created major problems for almost everyone, as had the internet issues.
Among the flight training organisations, the comments were similar. Some thought that there had been less engagement from the crowd than in previous years. Some reported reasonable interest in their stands. However, in general, the conversion into actual business that they had hoped for did not happen.
On the other side of the coin, vendors such as Mach 5 that offered a wide range of merchandise that appealed to most aviation enthusiasts reported booming sales, even with the EFTPOS issues. Most of the food and drink vendors reportedly sold out just as the show concluded, which is the perfect result for them.
Pee? Oh, queue
The reoccurring theme of the weekend was that there was a queue for everything. In the car up to 2 hours to travel 6 kms. Queues to go to the toilet. Queues to get food or drinks. And if you didn’t have cash on you, there was a 2-hour queue for the ATM before re-joining the queue for the food van.
But at least you could still see the action up in the air while waiting.
Something’s missing, in my life, maybe it’s you, maybe it’s my balloon…Sorry Marcia.
When the weather bureau says that parts of Queensland were colder than Victoria, you know it’s bloody cold. So why not go camping in one of the coldest parts of Queensland during an airshow? Great idea, it’ll be ‘character building’. Which we all know is code for shithouse.
Armed with a sizeable firepit and – literally – half a tree’s worth of firewood, we enjoyed the glorious sunsets and cool but bearable evenings. For a time, we wondered why we were the only ones in a tent and everyone else had caravans. All we were missing was a bug zapper, and we could have marvelled at the serenity.
Camping at sunset – feel the serenity
Sunday morning, however, was somewhat of a shock. Reportedly the coldest Queensland day of the year, the local thermometer was down around minus 2 degrees. As the dew point had been achieved early in the night, when we awoke there was a substantial layer of ice over pretty much everything. Car windows were frozen shut and windscreens were covered in ice. Even the trusty generator wasn’t having a bar of it, so no coffee to warm up. We have been warmer on ski trips to the Snowy Mountains.
But you can’t hold an airshow in Queensland in summer like you can in the southern states, so we best get used to it.
That’s a wrap
From an exhibitor’s perspective, having a display at the show was expensive, stressful, time consuming and at times frustrating and disappointing. COVID and weather certainly played their part in creating havoc over the past two years. While we thought the location of our stand was sub-optimal, some others in more prominent positions did not gain the traction they expected.
Perhaps the economic landscape for aviation has changed since COVID began and some of us need to reset our expectations and approach.
The organisers must have been under immense pressure dealing with the constant deluge of problems outside of their control. That may have resulted in some less-than-ideal outcomes.
But possibly the biggest drawback for us personally was the type of person attending. We believe that the vast majority of the crowd were aviation enthusiasts rather than current or future pilots. That worked well for some exhibitors, but not well for many others. Of those attracted to our stand, less than 20% had any flight hours.
But on the plus side, we did meet some great people, caught up with old friends and got some more exposure around the industry.
And any excuse to get a roaring fire going on a cold night will do us.
From a spectator’s viewpoint, it would be awesome if the guys from the Watts Bridge Memorial Airfield could relocate the runway to the south side of the airfield for next year. This would allow the spectators to view the action without looking directly into the winter sun for two days straight. Perhaps we could arrange a working bee for next weekend?
I’m very happy to be a pilot, can I join?