It’s been an unlucky couple of years for the Waterloo Air Show, with poor weather leading to big financial losses. But as the aviation celebration gears up for its fifth year at the Region of Waterloo International Airport in Breslau, its organizers’ expectations are sky-high.
“I hate to come across like a quote – ‘We’re really excited!’ – but the truth is, we are really excited about the new acts we have this year,” said marketing manager Diane Spremo.
Canada’s Snowbirds will once again take to the skies as the feature attraction on June 1 and 2, but will be joined by several new draws. First, American wing-walker Jane Wicker will risk life and limb as she ventures mid-air to parts of the plane that are decidedly not the pilot’s seat.
“To explain it verbally to someone doesn’t do it justice until you see it,” said Spremo. “To see her climbing and hanging and sitting on the wing of an aircraft, with no safety line, no parachute, is absolutely breathtaking, mind-boggling, jaw-dropping.”
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Also, the “Smoke-N-Thunder Jet Car” will race 400 miles per hour against one of the performing aircrafts (“shooting out 20-foot flames and billowing smoke,” promises Spremo), while 71-year-old Thornbury pilot Gord Price will demonstrate that age need not be an obstacle to aerobatics.
All of which is badly needed for an event that has seen its viability come under question. Since its founding in 2009, the Waterloo Air Show enjoyed its peak year in 2010, when approximately 40,000 people ventured to the Breslau airport. Things weren’t so lucky in 2011. “I don’t know if you remember the tornado in Goderich, but it happened on air show Sunday,” said Spremo.
An unusually cold and rainy summer weekend brought attendance down to 5,000 in 2012, and losses of $350,000 led to speculation that the show might be forced to close.
Are there any lessons that Spremo learned from those difficult experiences?
“As a marketer, sure, I learn each year how to market the show to more and more people, but it doesn’t really equate to the weather,” she said. “The truth is, you can market the heck out of a show, but if people wake up in the morning and it’s pouring rain with single-digit temperatures, they’re not going to come.”
Spremo hopes that visitors may also be attracted by the show’s new partnership. For the first time, they are joining forces with the Canadian Aviation Expo, now celebrating its twentieth anniversary. On the ground, visitors will see a variety of aviation-related booths and exhibitions, including a static display of vintage aircrafts.
“I could ramble off a bunch of names and letters – the B-17, the B-25, the C-123 … But really, the way I explain it is, they’re bombers and transport carriers, mostly from the WWII era.”
Spremo added, “It’s not just about coming to the show, looking up, watching the air show, and leaving. The air show itself doesn’t start until about 1 p.m., but the gates open at 10, so we encourage people to spend the day with us. We’ve got lots of activity happening on the ground as well.”