The Great British Airshow

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | February 2nd 2016

On Monday 1st February, the Civil Aviation Authority released details of its latest proposal which, in their words, describes ways in which they aim to improve safety at airshows in the United Kingdom. However, looking into the proposal in a little more detail reveals that it is nothing more than an inexplicable hike in airshow display charges; something that will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on the small and medium sized airshows of this country.

Let’s make something clear from the outset; what happened at Shoreham last year was an awful and tragic accident that shook the aviation community. It was the first time that a member of the public had died as a direct result of an air display in the UK since 1952 when the prototype model of the de Havilland Sea Vixen broke apart mid-display at the Farnborough Airshow.

As a result of that accident, airshow safety was drastically improved and over many years, the CAA has continued to adapt these guidelines into what many nations regard as the safest and most comprehensive set of airshow regulations in the world.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Hawker Hunter crash and aims to provide a full report into the incident as soon as possible. The Shoreham accident sparked widespread media outcry and understandably, the CAA is once again reviewing airshow safety standards in this country.

The most recent proposal however, CAP1371, seems to have absolutely nothing to do with improving airshow safety standards and instead is focused solely on raising further funds for the organisation itself.

The proposal outlines illogical, astronomical display fee hikes, meaning that many of the smaller shows in this country (and there are a lot) may not be around for much longer because the proposed format is unsustainable. These charges are due to come into effect as early as April 2016 and with many airshows already selling tickets, it’s difficult to understand how they’ll be able to adjust in such a small time frame in order to cover the increased fees.

While most shows have remained quiet on the matter so far, the organisers of the Biggin Hill Festival of Flight have spoken out and released the following statement:

We are dismayed to read the recent Civil Aviation Authority publication, “Proposed Air Display and Low Flying Permission Charges”, which could see the demise of the British Air Show.

The headline of a 100% increase in charges for the display permission is bad enough but turn the page and a new charge has been introduced; a “post event charge” based on the number of display items.

So in 2015 if you had between 18 & 24 display items you paid £1,497 for the CAA permission.

In 2016 for 18 to 24 display items you will pay £6,994.

And forget a big public show ever happening again for 31 items you will be asked to pay £20,390.

This new charging policy will see the air shows large and small disappear for the calendar in the UK and its not just the display organisers who are affected, display pilots’ authorisations have gone up by 100% as well.

In the leisure and tourism industry airshows are identified as the second largest sector of entertainment in the UK, falling just short on numbers when compared to football. Not only do airshows provide a fantastic family day and raise an incredible amount of money for charities up and down the country, they also inspire the next generation of engineers and pilots.


My passion for aviation can be traced back some twenty years to when my dad took me to my first ever airshow at Farnborough in the early 1990s. I can barely remember anything from that day apart from a single flypast by Concorde and the Red Arrows; it was probably only 30 seconds or so but it was out of this world. Fast forward twenty years and my enthusiasm for the hobby continues to increase as each day passes. My love of aviation has led me to situations that I could have only dreamed of as a child; writing about and photographing some of this country’s greatest aviation subjects.

With the CAA’s proposed, drastically increased airshow display charges, I fear that the days of smaller, maybe even larger, airshows are numbered and if these plans are approved there is a chance that they may disappear altogether.

To many in the industry, airshows are a massive and fundamental part of the UK aviation scene and we will not stand by and let the CAA push these proposals through without a fight.

In association with the Military Aviation Authority (MAA), the British Air Display Association (BADA) will be holding the annual Pre-Season Air Display Conference next week and it is expected that both airshow organisers and display pilots will be lobbying their views on the CAA’s latest proposals.


More, now than ever before, the airshow community needs your support.

Please spread the word, share this article and help to make more people aware of just what this proposal could mean for the UK airshow scene.

If you feel as passionate about this subject as I do, please head over to and formally respond to the CAA proposal as soon as possible. This is absolutely crucial as it will be used as the basis to summarise objections against the proposal next month.

There is also a government petition that is gaining traction and as of 18:00 6/2/16, some 6796 of you have already added your signature to the list. While it is fantastic that so many of you have showed your support, this petition will only really be taken into account if the proposal goes ahead. It is vital that you first respond to the CAA.

Thanks for reading.