RIAT 2008 Press Release
Who made the decision to cancel this summer’s Royal International Air Tattoo?
The decision was taken by the event’s Silver Co-ordinating Group, which includes: Supt Tony Godwin, Gloucestershire Police; Supt Matt Pullen, Wiltshire Police; Tim Prince, Director, Royal International Air Tattoo and Chris Murray, Air Tattoo Deputy Director Ground Operations. Other members include key individuals responsible for traffic, car parking and health and safety, some of whom were Air Tattoo personnel and others who were external consultants.
When was the decision to cancel the airshow on Saturday, July 12, taken?
The decision was taken at 6.30pm on Friday, July 11.
What happened then?
Once the decision was made, we acted quickly and endeavoured to use every available means to alert the public. Judging by the relatively few cars that arrived in Fairford on both the Saturday and Sunday, we believe we did a good job in getting the message out. Nonetheless, we do appreciate that many people will have travelled far and may have booked accommodation and they may not have heard about the cancellation until they were en route. We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience they suffered. Given that we were always working against the clock, we had to strike a delicate balance between attempting everything humanly possible to improve the conditions in the car parks (and elsewhere) yet allowing ourselves enough time to inform the public about the cancellation.
Why did it take so long to make the decision?
The decision was taken immediately after we were satisfied we had done everything possible to try and salvage the airshow within the time available. We believe all our stakeholders would have wanted us to exhaust all options before taking the reluctant decision to cancel.
In the 38 years that the Air Tattoo has been running, were no contingency plans ever been put in place in case it rains?
We do have contingency plans and we believe we were well equipped to deal with an above average amount of rainfall. However, the sheer volume of rainfall we experienced simply overwhelmed us. Following our experiences last year, we pre-ordered the same amounts of materials for use in the car parks even though there was no indication at the time that the weather was going to be so bad. As soon as we felt more was needed we brought in an additional seven lorry loads of woodchip, 100 tonnes of aggregate and ordered as much tracking as suppliers in the UK could deliver – until they ran out. Naturally we were constantly monitoring the weather during the week and we had a weatherman from the Met Office with us throughout. Whilst we all knew there was rain about, the sheer volume – and timing of it – simply conspired against us.
We were led to believe the boggy state of the car parks was the crux of the problem – was this so or was it a more complex range of issues?
It is vital that we provide car parks that are fit for purpose. We do make available more car parking spaces than we would ever expect to use but the volume of rainfall, which eventually caused the ground to become saturated, was such that it left us with not enough space to park the number of cars we were anticipating. We suffered two extreme bouts of rainfall on Friday, July 11, one at midday and the other at around 4pm.
Our teams were working at maximum capacity right up to late Friday afternoon to improve the conditions of the car parks but it became clear, sadly, that we were fighting a losing battle. Despite this, the team continued to manage the situation even whilst decisions were being taken and continued to do so thereafter in the hope that Sunday’s event could be rescued.
The car parks were not fit for purpose and presented an unacceptable risk to those using them. In addition, this would have created unacceptable levels of congestion on the external road system.
Part of the duty of care we have to our guests when staging the air display is the effective response of the emergency services vehicles within the showground. The ensuing conditions would have prevented this, including the inaccessibility of the critical fire lanes.
The very poor state of the showground was such that our ability to maintain and support the essential services such as toilets, waste collection and the like would have been severely impaired and along with the uneven nature of the ground, rendered many areas to be dangerous from a public perspective.
From the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust Enterprises’ perspective, it employs 40 full-time staff to plan the airshow and there are an additional 3,000+ volunteers who travel from around the world to help run the event. Add to these the 1,000+ aircrew who fly in from around the globe, the 30+ corporate sponsors, the Royal Air Force and the tens of thousands of ticket-buyers who would be significantly inconvenienced, you can rest assured that the decision to cancel was not taken lightly. The photographs we have posted on this site, which we urge you to look at, demonstrate the seriousness of the situation.
How about putting down more hardstanding in the future to avert the problem?
Within the timeframe, everything that could have possibly been done was done. As for hardstanding, not only would it be impracticable to cover all the fields in hardstanding but it is not in the Air Tattoo’s gift to do so as the fields are rented. However, we will explore all opportunities to improve the resilience of the car parks and their entrances. Even if enough hardstanding could be laid in the car parks, that wouldn’t solve the problem of what conditions might be like on the airfield itself.
In the past you have operated a park-and-ride service. Why was this not in operation this year?
Yes, in 2003 we ran a park-and-ride service but it was not successful. We will now earnestly review opportunities for park-and-ride facilities in the future but we will have to bear in mind that we need to find a location that gives buses a route into RAF Fairford that avoids existing public routes. There is no point establishing a park-and-ride provision if the buses simply joined the queues on the public routes because there would be no incentive for people to use them.
Why wasn’t some sort of flying display laid on for all those people stranded at camp sites as a gesture of goodwill?
As far as staging a flying display for those in the campsites, anyone who had planned to visit the Air Tattoo but couldn’t because it was cancelled, would have been justified in feeling cheated if they subsequently learned that displays were taking place. Unfortunately and inevitably, this had to include displays by the Vulcan and the USAF F-22A. The Air Tattoo could not cancel its airshow and then stage a flying display, no matter how small. It would have been confusing to the public and, had it become widely known, the area would have been inundated with people trying to get into the area but with no where to park. Not only would it have been extremely irresponsible but would have resulted in extremely negative PR in respect of the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust and the public face of the Royal Air Force.
Will contingency plans be made for next year? What will they be and when are we likely to know?
Yes, and to an even greater extent than this year. We will be looking at everything we did to determine what more could be done and researching all possible options.
We shall communicate our findings as soon as possible.
Why couldn’t the Air Tattoo allow parking on the Base once it became clear some of the public car parks were unusable?
Prior to 9/11, the US Air Force permitted public car parking on the airfield. However, since then, heightened security restrictions meant that the Air Tattoo had to make provisions for its public car parks off-site. We shall now be investigating whether there is potential for parking more vehicles on the airfield in the future.
Could the public car parks have been saved if the Colours’ Presentation Ceremony did not take place on Friday, July 11?
The Air Tattoo is serviced by three public car parks, colour-coded red, blue and green. The red car park was used to accommodate guests for the Colours’ Presentation Ceremony. It was also used by the Air Tattoo’s Park & View (East) guests. The red car park did suffer damage on the Friday but that was only part of the problem as other critical car park areas were unfit due to the extremely high amount of rainfall, causing saturation, even though these other car parks had not been used.
Do you agree that the introduction of the day-specific tickets this year was unfair because it meant that people, who had bought tickets for Saturday, couldn’t have gone on Sunday, had the airshow taken place on the second day?
Quite the opposite! The introduction of the day-specific tickets this year meant that we were in a position to have some control of the number of people coming to the airshow. Without day-specific tickets, it would have been impossible for us to open on the Sunday for a whole set of different health and safety reasons. Day-specific tickets were introduced last year because of the contrasting weather forecasts for the two airshow days. This meant that a disproportionate number of people chose to join us on the sunnier Saturday. This stretched our resources both on the roads and on the airfield. Under no circumstances would we have contemplated inviting our entire weekend crowd on just the one day. Neither the roads nor the car parks could cope.
Is it true that the Air Tattoo is thinking of moving from RAF Fairford?
In almost all respects, RAF Fairford is the ideal location for the Air Tattoo. It suits the USAF and the RAF - given that it is a standby facility. The event also provides great opportunities, both financially and reputationally, for the Cotswolds.
As such, we very much hope that arrangements can be put in place to minimise a re-occurrence of this year. However, we would consider moving if we felt it was the only way that we could protect the Air Tattoo’s excellent international reputation and its status as one of the UK’s most exciting family days out.
What about all those people who incurred extra travel and accommodation costs. Will they be recompensed?
Unfortunately we are unable to compensate the public for anything other than the cost of their ticket plus their booking fee. We are aware that many people will have travelled far, and spent a considerable amount of money to be with us this year and we are truly sorry.
Why will it take up to eight weeks to have the cost of my ticket refunded?
Wherever possible we hope people will receive their refunds quicker than this. However, the sheer volume of ticket refunds needing to be processed, in addition to the need to ensure that we maintain an essential audit trail and control of refunds, by definition means that we are unable to refund monies instantly. Notwithstanding, we are acutely aware of the necessity for people to receive their refunds as soon as is practically possible and all our efforts are currently being directed in this way. Further updates will be posted on our website in the coming days.
In addition to the price of the ticket, will you be refunding the booking fee, where applicable?