Public air shows: Fight or flight?
The worst thing any piece of entertainment can be is boring. Say what you will about dreadful films like “Turkish Star Wars”, they’re nothing compared to the painfully lifeless chick flicks which come out quietly every week and disappear immediately, from the cinemas and from the minds of the people who watched them.
Looking at air shows, what is it that’s actually fun about watching them? Obviously seeing somebody drive a car around in a circle would be boring, so what’s the difference?
One one hand there’s the historical aspect, where watching old planes fly again is satisfying to watch. But then there are the stunts. The real draw here is that we know that the pilots could die at any second if they got any small part wrong.
It’s the primal rush of danger that makes the event exhilarating. There’d be no fun in watching a drone do the same tricks. Even the historical angle is relevant here, considering the Spitfires and Lancasters are known as dogfighters and bombers, watching these planes fly around calls to mind soldiers in the heat of battle.
Now this danger is fine for the pilots who are obviously aware of the dangers, but it becomes less fine when audience members are killed when said things go wrong, and so much less so when completely separate bystanders outside the arena are affected, like in the case of the recent Shoreham air crash.
A pilot lost control and ended up crashing into the A27, killing 11 people. So the family of one of the victims have called for air shows to be held over the sea to reduce the risk of public fatalities.
So the question is this: how far can we take safety measures before we kill the fun of the show? Obviously a rust bucket flying over London would be the most death defying and exciting, but also completely reckless.
At the other end of the scale lies drone aircraft flying from drone ship to drone ship out at sea while the audience watch through binoculars on land. Clearly there needs to be a line drawn.
But the truth is that the line has been drawn well as it is. The UK’s stringent checks on aircraft and pilots are among the toughest in the world. Combine this with the amount of on-site medical and firefighting equipment and you end up with a very well prepared event, with cautiousness and patience put in to ensure the danger is the safest it can be.
As a result, air show fatalities are incredibly low, and tragedies like this rare. If rare accidents like these dictated the regulations, then everything would start to be choked.
Certain rollercoaster shapes would be outlawed. Rugby and Boxing would become illegal sporting events. Cars would be speed limited electronically and F1 would have to be watched from inside a bunker.
All of these things cause accidents, but accidents do happen. As a species we thrive on danger. Felix Baumgartner is still being remembered in the public consciousness as the man who jumped from the edge of space, and to date his jump has thirty eight million views on YouTube.
The more we push ourselves towards surrounding ourselves in cotton wool the more sterile and lifeless we’ll all become. Caution must be exercised, but the British caution is unmatched and all we’re left with are rare, tragic accidents.