Royal International Air Tattoo 2018 Preview
Friday 13th April 2018
Billed as the international celebration of RAF100, there is a widely held expectation that The Royal International Air Tattoo 2018 will surpass events of the past. An expectation that, perhaps, should be tempered by the realisation that many of the world's air forces have their own commitments and, for the most part, are smaller than a few years ago. There are, however, a number of one-year-only changes to the standard RIAT format that may catch some people unawares.
With a little help from RAFCTE Chief Executive Andy Armstrong and Head of Air Operations Tom Gibbons,previews what the visitor can expect to be different at RIAT 2018.
It is fair to say that the 2018 UK airshow season will be unique, with many events celebrating the centenary of the world's first military branch dedicated to aviation via RAF100. During the season there are a number of events being formally supported by the RAF spearheaded by a national tour, the RAF Cosford Air Show, a flypast down the Mall on 10th July, and RIAT 2018. The latter represents an opportunity for the world to join in with the celebrations both with aircraft and via the Air Power Conference held alongside the airshow. Such a momentous occasion will inevitably result in format changes that the regular visitor should be made aware of.
The most obvious alteration will be the expansion of the Friday half day event of recent years to a full show day. This is purely to accommodate the events planned for the Friday to mark the centenary and is going to be a one-off. Friday will be unique, not only in the air but also on the ground. The show will host a Royal Review of the RAF at some point during the day. Whilst the organisers are being tight lipped over which royal(s) will be attending, it is likely that during the review there may be some temporary restrictions of access to the RAF assets on static. This will be unavoidable for security purposes and visitors may want to take that into account when deciding on the time they choose to walk the eastern end of the static line.
In the air, Friday will be unique due to the display being centred around a mass RAF flypast of over 50 aircraft to mark RAF100, a flypast that is smaller than that seen in 2008 and will be seen earlier that week over London however given how rapidly the RAF have shrunk over recent years, the number of aircraft taking part is still significant. There will be some disappointment from those that have purchased a ticket for one of the weekend days that they will not see this spectacle, this has not been lost on the organisers. The flypast itself cannot take place on any other day due to the tasking burden it places on not just the RAF pilots but the ground crew involved in getting so many aircraft available over a weekend. The organisers have stressed however that there are other unique - as yet unannounced - RAF100 items that will occur over the weekend.
Last year there was some significant disdain from those that attended on the Saturday and missed the splendid flypast on the Sunday from the B-2A Spirit - including those that went to the extreme of formally demanding a refund. In light of this, Douglas Bader House are extremely keen to emphasise that, thanks to RAF100, they are this year expecting so many participants wishing to attend that it is likely that the flying display each day will be different. To what degree remains uncertain at this stage.
Everyday is likely to be different and I'm glad that we have the opportunity to restate that. Last year when the B-2 flew through, people that were only there on the Saturday were clearly disappointed. What they wouldn't have known is that other unique things were planned for the Saturday that couldn't happen for various technical reasons.
As far as this year is concerned it is too early to tell what is and isn't going to happen on each day other than Friday which will be significantly different from the Saturday and Sunday. Friday will be the Royal Review and therefore it will have a flypast that will only happen that day but there will be other things happening on the weekend.
There are other air arms that are wanting to participate, and they are queuing up! AA
Whilst we may never see the numbers of static aircraft that were witnessed 15 years ago thanks to the reducing size of air arms and ever-increasing commitments, this year DBH expect there to be a requirement to provide further space for static aircraft to park. To that end, extra land has been rented to allow vehicles to park off base at the Green and Red entrances. This will mean that some will be inconvenienced by a perceived longer walk than usual to the gate however the location of the Red gate is also being moved to accommodate the expected extra aircraft.
The good news for the photographer is that the dispersals at the western end of the airfield that benefit from a photogenic background which have not been used for a number of years are being brought back in to use for static aircraft if there is a requirement. At the time of writing it appears that this space will be required.
The worlds air arms are coming to Fairford to celebrate the international aspect of the centenary and they want to send their display assets. I think we will have a great airshow and as far as the assets on the ground are concerned, we are renting additional fields because we know we are going to need offsite parking as we are going to need the concrete. It is going to be a bigger event this year. AA
You've got to remember that to put a lot of this infrastructure in place so that you are in a position to put on this event you've got to look at past experience. Review previous events, what something is likely to deliver and plan your contingencies accordingly. That's exactly what we have been doing, we don't want to be getting to June and finding we suddenly haven't got the plans in place to deliver. As Andy has just said we are expecting to be able to use that capacity.
Everything so far has pointed to the decisions we've made and the contingencies we have put in place being the right decisions.
Regulatory changes have affected every airshow in the country and RA2335 has specific requirements contained within it regarding secondary crowds gathering within the display box to view the show, requirements which saw Rhymes Farm close due to its location within the display box. At RIAT the area near Whelford at the eastern end of the runway is also within the display box and therefore of particular concern. Whilst DBH could not comment on whether we would see increased measures at this end of the airfield in addition to the screens and fences erected last year, Armstrong did make it clear that the end of the runway is a current point of concern.
There is a safety issue regarding secondary crowds and we will take active steps to communicate the risks associated with that. I make no apologies, I will take what additional steps I can to ensure they are not there because there is a safety issue at the Whelford end and it is not just about what is happening at the airshow. AA
At the time of our meeting with DBH whilst preparing this piece, we were advised there were currently 30 air arms from 28 nations in discussions regarding attendance. Since this discussion some major participants including Romanian Mig-21 in the flying display have been announced and the static display will see significant commitments from other air arms, Canada being an example. It is clear that the 2018 show will be an event to remember and we just hope that the weather plays its part.
As a final thought, with RAF100 representing the major theme at this years show, what does Andy Armstrong believe people should take away from RIAT 2018 and what does he think of RAF100?
That RIAT 2018 was a fabulous celebration of the centenary, a once in a lifetime event. We're never going to get back to the Guinness Book of Records 525 aircraft here. That is not going to happen. But we are planning a very special celebration, I want people to come and enjoy themselves at the show.
I think the RAF's approach to RAF100 is exceptional, I'm personally part of the joint venture, working with the other RAF charities and the RAF on the RAF100 Appeal. The themes of "commemorate, celebrate and inspire" I think resonate with past, present and future but it should have never have been - and isn't - just a big party. It is a celebration of 100 years and commemorates the history but, most importantly, it's about inspiring a new generation. Our focus is on youth and the inspire theme plays really well given our charity link. AA
Whilst FRIAT has sold out at an unprecedented pace, at the time of writing there are still tickets available for all three days at the show. Should you wish to attend this once in a lifetime event, tickets are available from AirTattoo.com