Edward Rooney

Edward Rooney is the news editor at the Herald on Sunday.

Air show down in smoke

Abysmal ticket sales force event company into liquidation.

The Auckland Anniversary event failed to attract adequate numbers.  Photo / Doug Sherring
The Auckland Anniversary event failed to attract adequate numbers. Photo / Doug Sherring

Hopes for an annual international air show have crash-landed with financial failure after this year's inaugural event.

Airshow Systems Ltd, the company behind the New Zealand International Air Show on Auckland's North Shore, was placed in liquidation this week.

Chief executive Peter Newport told the Herald on Sunday the Auckland Anniversary Weekend event suffered from dismal ticket sales.

Tickets were initially $55 for one-day general admission, and $240 for a VIP three-day pass. General admission for the last day was discounted to $35.

Ticket sales barely topped 5000 on the first day. Before the event, promoters hoped for ticket sales of more than 60,000 across three days. Suppliers to the event, who declined to be named, said up to $1 million could be owed across the aviation and hospitality industries.

"It was very expensive to stage," said Newport, who declined to discuss amounts.

"It was a new-format airshow, but we had excellent marketing support from TV3 and Mediaworks."

TV3 aired comprehensive coverage before and during the event, as aviation stars such as Yves "Jetman" Rossy and aerobatic couple Rex and Melissa Pemberton performed. Rossy said he had been paid for his appearance.

Newport said the liquidation process was at a very preliminary stage, but low gate-takings were a clear factor.

"The only theory I can share at this stage is the plan put in place by Auckland Transport, which was very keen to avoid congestion and, as a result, used parking lots and shuttle services. We believe that Aucklanders may not have liked the prospect of not being able to drive up to the air show in their cars," he said.

Auckland Transport spokeswoman Sharon Hunter said AT "hadn't heard a word" of disquiet from the airshow organisers. She burst into laughter when Newport's comments were read back to her, but said it was a pity the event tanked.

"It just didn't take off. We were keeping an eye on it ... Maybe Aucklanders just headed to the beach," she said.

Traffic officials were anxious to avoid a repeat of a smaller event at Ardmore last September. A 3km traffic queue sat idling on the roads around the airport as the first aircraft were taking off at 10am.

To minimise traffic jams around North Shore Airfield at Dairy Flat, parking arrangements were designed in close collaboration with Auckland Transport.

There was no public parking at the airfield. Instead, there were three park-and-ride areas in Silverdale and Albany. Free shuttle buses ran to the airshow every 15 minutes. "The cost of those shuttles pushed up the ticket prices," Newport said.

"We had to foot the bill. If we got the traffic wrong, that's what we would have been remembered for."

Newport could not comment on the number of tickets that had been sold. "We're still looking into that but it was way, way below our forecast."

In the final day's scramble for gate-takings, organisers announced two-for-one tickets for online pre-purchases made after 6pm on Sunday.

General admission and family-pass tickets were upgraded to VIP, and VIP ticketholders were given access to a premium lounge for a private event, with two free drinks and the chance to meet star talent.

A spokesperson for the North Shore Aero Club said the airfield was owed "tens of thousands" of dollars for the hire of the property, six aircraft and fuel.

"It is very substantial, yes, and we are handling it through our lawyers."

The event went ahead without a key component of earlier plans - a free air show over the waterfront - after the Auckland Council's events agency declined funding.

Newport said the failure of the air show was a sad outcome.

"For the good of Auckland, we need to see more major events and we need to find a way to assist these events."

- Herald on Sunday

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