“Two big things have placed the show on really good footing this year to come back and be on very solid ground financially,” said Muskegon Air Fair General Manager Brenda Kerfoot.
The United States Navy Blue Angels Flying Demonstration Team, which always draws attention, is making one of its only summer appearances in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio, which will help bring people in from out of state. The other big difference this year is that the fair is returning to its traditional dates of mid-July, the 22nd through the 24th, rather than coinciding with Fourth of July weekend and Muskegon’s Summer Celebration.
“Last year was one of our lowest years ever,” Kerfoot said. “It pretty much rained at the show site every day. That really is probably the biggest impact on an event like the air show: If it’s outside, even a threat of rain could hurt us.”
Sales of corporate chalets also hurt the air show last year, Kerfoot said.
“Our chalet sales were impacted before the weather even came into play because of (the event) being on the holiday weekend,” she said.
Chris Kelly, chairman of the Muskegon Air Fair board of directors and the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said chalet sales were also low because of a late start in leasing the airport from Muskegon County.
“As a result, we couldn’t get started on our chalet sales until early April,” he said. “Last year we had 25 or 26; this year we have about 60.”
The Air Fair has taken place over the Fourth of July for the past several years, mostly to accommodate the Blue Angels, who only had availability that weekend in 2001 and 2003.
“Our board is really committed to not (hold the event) on the Fourth of July, because it severely affects our sponsorship and our corporate chalets,” Kerfoot said.
Kelly agreed, saying competition with Muskegon’s Summer Celebration affected the fair, as well.
“There’s just a natural competition, not only for ticket sales, but for sponsorships and chalets,” he said.
Bringing the Blue Angels back is another reason Kelly said sales have been off to a good start this year.
“When you have the Blue Angels as your marquee act, it’s just a lot easier to sell,” he said.
Kerfoot said the Blue Angels were accommodating in finding a date other than the Fourth of July weekend to perform that worked both for the fair and for the flight team’s availability.
“That is the state’s driest time and ideal weather conditions,” she said.
With another week left before the event, Kerfoot said corporate chalets have sold out and the new public Famous Dave’s Flying Pig Chalet is close to selling out in its first year.
“People are ready to jump on board,” she said. “They know it’s a solid program and the date helped.”
Sponsors this year such as Famous Dave’s Legendary Pit Bar-B-Que have signed on early and taken on bigger roles, Kerfoot said. Brann’s Steakhouse and Grille is sponsoring the crew center and feeding the upwards of 400 people who help the fair come together.
“Those were two great adds to our sponsors list that really make the venue more viable and also make it more customer friendly,” she said.
The sponsorships are an important aspect of the event, Kerfoot said.
“You can’t put on an event of this size without having the sponsor’s dollar there to offset the cost,” she said.
Kelly said sponsorships have already been planned for the future, following a longer term deal with Muskegon County.
“By having that long-term certainty, we’re able to do a lot better job on sales and sponsorships,” he said.
Kerfoot said she is confident that the Air Fair is back on its feet.
“We have a strong event that will continue in the future,” she said. “The only thing we need now is blue skies for the whole weekend.”
Besides the Blue Angels, the 22nd Muskegon Air Fair also features the United States Army Golden Knights Parachute Team, the Showcat wing-walker performance, an array of aircraft from various United States military actions, and Shockwave, the triple jet engine semi-truck.
Kerfoot said the event is really special because it lets taxpayers see what their money is doing in the military and it gives people a chance to interact with the servicemen and women.
“People really get to interact with the military and hear their stories,” she said.
Kelly, who has been involved with the air show for more than 15 years, said it is his favorite event.
“It’s big family fun and I just encourage everyone to come out and check it out,” he said.
There are several options for tickets, including day passes, box seats, family four packs and general admission. The Flight Line Club Tables and the Corporate Chalet packages are sold out. Tickets are still available for the Small Business Picnic Chalet and the Chairman’s Club. General admission tickets are $17 for adults, $9 for seniors and children ages 5 to 12. Children 4 and younger get in free. Tickets are available at Meijer stores through Star Tickets Plus, at www.starticketsplus.com, by calling (800) 585-3737 or at the gate during the event.