Meanwhile, behind the scenes at the airshow….

News Article / July 12, 2016

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By Ross Lees

Re-establishing an international air show in Trenton, Ontario, in nine months was a tough task, but the organizers of Quinte International Air Show (QIAS) 2016 successfully produced a tremendous two-day air show on the weekend of June 25-26, 2016. And while the show ran seamlessly for the almost 80,000 spectators, a lot of people worked very hard behind the scenes to produce what they expect to be the biggest and best QIAS ever produced.

It was a commitment 8 Wing Trenton’s commander, Colonel Colin Keiver, made when announcing the return of QIAS and, despite the short time line, the organizers came through on that promise. Much of the success was due to a large number of hard-working volunteers.

“We had a lot of volunteers to help, with the air show feeling that we would just take it and implement what we had done before. Then we realized there was no archived or history of documentation on that,” said chief of staff of operations for QIAS 2016, Major Martin Zimmer.

“We do run an open house every couple of years, but that is considerably different than running a full-scale international air show, which is what we’re planning for this year,” he said before the airshow took place. “Effectively, we had to go back to square one and start all over again.”

That was made possible by the fact military personnel are trained to plan for big events and the volunteers just divided it up into a lot of categories and got it done. They had two primary targets: getting the acts to come to Trenton and then getting the people to come to see the acts, according to Major Zimmer.

“My job as chief of staff of operations was really to look to be the first contact with all the organizations to get the aircraft coming; a lot of them are military so the Snowbirds and the CF-18 were something we did at the beginning of the year,” he explained. “But as far as civilian aircraft and other military aircraft – USAF and Royal Air Force, the U.S. Marines and other countries – there’s a bunch of paperwork and so on that has to be done, and you want to do that early so you can get your dibs in to get those aircraft.”

Major Zimmer made that first contact then passed the acts off to flight operations, where points-of-contact were established, contracts signed and show requirements established. But establishing the air show wasn’t the only concern of QIAS 2016 organizers, he noted.

“You can never control the weather, so while it’s going to be a pretty amazing flying demonstration performance, you want to provide a family environment for a family if the weather is not great and affects the flying displays,” he said. Organizers prepare for a significant number of activities and things to see on the ground to attract visitors and provide them with an interesting experience even if the weather isn’t great.

Another major challenge was handling the large number of people who came through the gates, including how to get them here. Parking and transferring spectators to the site in a timely fashion was one major consideration and security on the base was another.

The security environment is vastly different than it was when the previous air shows were put on, Major Zimmer acknowledged.

“Under the current environment, we have to have the security to protect our people and infrastructure,” he said. “When we talk about the individual coming through, we’ll be doing searches and looking for someone who might have something that’s prohibited from the event and they’ll also be screening and scanning of everybody coming through – similar to what’s going on at airports.

A significant amount of documentation has to go through to Transport Canada for approval as well as to 1 Canadian Air Division Headquarters in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Maj. Zimmer noted. “Our team is involved in that to make sure those deadlines are met.”

One of the team’s earliest steps was to hire “air boss” David White from Toronto, explained Major Jim Falldien, the flight operations director of QIAS 2016.

“His basic responsibilities are to kind of be the conductor of the orchestra,” he said. “Under Transport Canada regulations, he’s not actually allowed to give clearances for aircraft to take off and land and all that type of stuff, so I’ll be positioning one of my tower controllers out with the air boss.

“At the end of the day, he steers the show, telling performers when to go based on the schedule. He’s responsible for producing the actual flying sequence of which aircraft goes next and putting it together because he has the experience.”

That experience has been a tremendous asset to the Major Falldien and the volunteers with QIAS 2016.

“He has been contracted to assist in a consultant role, as well,” explained Major Falldien. “He’s been phenomenal to work with, supplying very good suggestions and recommendations based on his working in other places. He’s been a good piece for me. I interface directly with him and it’s worked out very well for our air show too.

Safety is a very high priority at QIAS 2016, as at any air show, and the team was required to produce an emergency response plan.

“The wing here has a standing emergency response plan that it uses, but because of the air show, you have to make a niche one that deals specifically with … the unique challenges of an air show: a lot of people in a small location with a lot of other aircraft, and the fact the aircraft are performing acrobatic-style flying,” said Major Falldien.

“Absolutely, the safety piece is all-encompassed in that document. The flying world is quite well regulated but the key is to ensure that people are actually accredited for the skills they say they have, including a person that does something on the ground to the guy who is flying in the air.  From the flight ops [operations] side of the house, the safety piece is something that is in the forefront of most people’s minds, especially given the type of flying we’re doing,” he said.

The air show has had no effect on base operations, he continued.

“The ops [operational] tempo is still a requirement, so we’re still required to have a certain operations ongoing the entire time. That said, there will be certain aircraft that will need to leave the wing and be parked somewhere else just due to the fact there won’t be space for them once all the visitors arrive. But there has not been a big effect on operations, because that is our primary responsibility.”

Search and rescue will continue to function as it always does, despite the increased activity around Trenton.

“The good thing about search and rescue is it comes in a contained package, so they’re able to operate out of any location. Right up to the weekend, they’ll be operating out of here, and the plan right now is to potentially move them to another location in the local area and then maintain our operations from there,” Major Falldien noted.

“The pre-program is about half an hour, which will include the SkyHawks and potentially some other locally-based aircraft doing demonstrations,” he continued. “Then the show proper is approximately four hours and 10 minutes, so the live flying portion of the show is about four hours and 30 minutes.”

Yet another major challenge is setting up the static displays.

“They show up . . . within a window and then, with the number of aircraft and a limited amount of space, where you park them is very important. If for some reason – say there’s a foreign military aircraft here and he suddenly needs to leave – you have to have a plan in place so that you don’t really lock anybody in. I would say that is probably one of the biggest challenges. Fortunately, I have a large team and a lot of smart people to figure that out.”

Which is in fact, the key to a well-run and organized international air show – a lot of people with superior knowledge working in the background to set it up and make it function smoothly. For QIAS 2016, they more than met the challenge.

Ross Lees is the editor of Trenton’s base newspaper, The Contact, where this article was originally published.

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