Gary Parsons reports on Jersey's 2007 airshow, held on 13 September. Pictures by the author, Andy Hare and Paul Johnson
"It's been the most difficult one yet", says Mike Higgins, Airshow Director on the eve of the airshow. Typically of Mike, this was something of an understatement - just a few months before, the airshow line-up was looking very thin, and Mike confesses that he had even thought about cancellation, something that would surely have driven a nail in the event's coffin. But in early July fortunes turned with the cancellation of 'Spirit of Adventure' at Kinross, releasing a display slot for Typhoon, and some intensive lobbying from all directions secured it for Jersey. Suddenly Mike had a star act on which to build - sure, the Red Arrows were always there, but otherwise RAF participation had been watered down to just the Hawk, Tucano and Tutor, with a token presence from the BBMF, sans Lancaster. Early season withdrawals of Merlin and Chinook had indicated 2007 would be tough, so Mike started to chase a wider variety of civilian acts, but of course they would all want paying, and sponsors were already feeling the pinch.
Coming to the rescue was bmi, who provided an Airbus A320 to mark the seventieth anniversary of Jersey's Airport, highlighting the low-cost carrier's close association with the island. This gave Mike something to work around, and the airshow's centrepiece would be a celebration of the airport, with other airliner types and operators approached to provide support.
Jersey airport's history began in 1912, when Jean Benoist landed his Sanchez-Besa biplane in St Aubin's Bay as part of a four aircraft race organised between St Malo and Jersey. Air services to Jersey before 1937 consisted of biplane airliners and some seaplanes landing on the extensive beach at St Aubin's Bay - Jersey Airways and Imperial Airways were among those who operated to the island before the war, but conditions were difficult as timetables were governed by tides. It was also difficult to prevent members of the public from walking across the landing area, and any aircraft which had mechanical problems had to be dragged up the slipways until the tide receded.
The States of Jersey built an airport at St Peter, close to St Aubin's Bay, which opened on 10 March 1937 with four grass runways. Concrete taxiways were added during the occupation by the Luftwaffe, which also built hangars, one of which is still in existence. A 4,200 ft tarmac runway was opened in 1952, with traffic lights in place to prevent vehicles using the road from Les Quennevais to the Airport when planes were being moved to or from the hangars.
The runway was lengthened over the years, reaching its current length in 1976, although at 5,600 ft it is still on the short side for commercial airliner operations, and recently Thomsonfly announced removal of its services as it introduces the larger Boeing 737-800 to its fleet. The Channel Islands' fleet of Islanders and Trislanders keep it busy, with approximately 80,000 aircraft movements annually and 1.5 million passenger movements each year.
Even this strategy by Mike was not without its problems - a grounding of Bombardier Q400s just the day before the airshow withdrew the planned Flybe Embraer 195, as it was re-tasked to relieve stranded passengers along the South Coast. Other no-shows on arrivals day were the Swedish Historic Flight's J29 Tunnen, due back for a second year; Martin-Baker's Meteor and the French-operated MS760 Paris. But, using what had arrived to best effect, a full day's entertainment was had under gloriously sunny skies, with temperatures bouncing in the low twenties. There was much to enjoy - the F-86 and Meteor duo, perhaps the first time this pairing had been seen together; the T-28 and Bronco, maybe the airshow scene's most unlikely pairing; the 'Battle of Brian', as commentator Melvyn Hiscock quipped, as the late Brian Brown in the Hurricane did 'battle' with Brian Smith in the Buchon; Mike Collet's landing of his Dragon Rapide on the beach, directly in front of the packed promenade; the gorgeous re-painted DC-6 G-APSA; and the flypast of the A320 and Red Arrows, the airshow's defining moment.
In many ways, this was Jersey's strongest showing yet, as it proved it had the resolve and resources to put on a first-rate air display, free to the public, and still raise a hefty amount for the Royal Air Force Association. Its position as a 'Priority 2' event on the RAF's criteria list should be reviewed, as Jersey's influence in the world is growing as an independent state and also one with strong charitable links. If not, 2008 may be another tough year as it is likely that Typhoon will once again be allocated elsewhere, as will the Role Demo. Hopefully the Vulcan will be high on the cast list, and the French Air Force is being courted to bring some fast jet action to the skies over Elizabeth Castle.
Jersey's airshow week is now the busiest in the year, so if you are going, book early!