Someone once said that flying, unlike the sea, is very unforgiving. The recent spate of European airshow accidents, as well as some past US airshow accidents, demonstrates how true this is. Do such accidents suggest that airshows are an ultra- dangerous spectator event? The answer is no.
Airshow pilots are among the most experienced pilots flying and are known for their “stick and rudder” skills. They are not risk takers; they are risk managers. Every well-known airshow is practiced, rehearsed, and choreographed to the smallest detail. The show’s “air boss” is the air traffic controller in charge of everyone and everything in the air, is in continuous radio communication with the pilots, and nothing happens unless the air boss authorizes it.
Reasonable and appropriate clear areas free of people and vehicles are established at every airshow by the controlling government aviation authority (the FAA in the US), and government representatives are present and monitoring the airshow to assure compliance with all safety regulations. Safety is paramount at airshows, and short of requiring everyone to stay home and watch the show on TV, there is nothing more that can reasonably be done to protect spectators.
Statistically, airshows are far safer than other spectator events. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, as of 2011 there were 152 air show and air race accidents in the U.S. since 1986, including 75 fatal ones. None involved spectator deaths until the Reno Air Race in 2011, where 9 people died and 69 were injured.
The sport with the most consistent record for producing fatalities appears to be motor racing, which has taken a substantial toll on spectators over the years. According to a Charlotte Observer article , as of August, 2014 more than 520 people were killed at U.S. auto races since 1989. Here’s the schedule for some popular airshows coming up in 2015. Enjoy the show.