Do A Series Of Airshow Disasters And Deaths Call The Safety Of Them Into Question?

An airshow is supposed to be a fun event, not a disaster. Yet in the past two weeks two different airshows have both had a disaster to contend with. The Shoreham Airshow plane crash occurred when a ’50s plane crashed into four cars while attempting a loop maneuver. At the Chicago Air and Water Show, a yearly airshow event, a parachutist collided with another one and struck the side of an apartment building. He died one day later, and parachuting events were cancelled for the next day. Even those aren’t the only ones to have occurred this summer: a Russian airshow led to the death of a helicopter pilot in a crash, and an airshow in Cameron, Missouri, led to the death of a biplane pilot in late June. So many incidents in such a small period of time raises the inevitable question: are these airshows safe?

Airshow disasters have occurred for years. Most only involve injury and death to a small number, but there are cases where hundreds have been hurt. The Ramstein airshow disaster in 1988 in Germany killed 67 people and injured over 346. The Sknyliv airshow disaster in Ukraine in 2002 killed 77 and injured over 500.

Plane crashes and disasters are a fear of many travelers, despite the relatively low risk of disaster in plane travel. Hundreds of planes take off and land successfully every day. Airplane travel is a direct journey from one place to another, and airline pilots do not attempt to perform stunts. Airshows, on the other hand, are promoted for those stunts. They’re often the main draw. There are also far fewer of them, at most 350 a year. Airshow pilots are in airplanes where ejection is a possibility, but that doesn’t prevent harm in crashes 100 percent of the time.

The most common defense of such shows is that disaster is rare and people enjoy them, just like NASCAR events. That’s true, but NASCAR events differ in that few spectators have been involved in fatalities (46 spectators have been killed in these disasters, but none of those were at a NASCAR event). Airshows aren’t likely to stop over safety concerns. Adjustments to them are made in response to disaster (for example, the Ramstein disaster led to the outlawing of events that required pilots to fly over spectators in airshows in the United States), but there is little active prevention of those disasters. Short of stopping airshows entirely, there’s no way to make them completely safe. But the question remains: are we doing enough to make them safer?

(Image stock image via pixabay)