Sunday, June 08, 2014

John Black, Smyrna Airport (KMQY): Air show helps to increase interest in flying

SMYRNA — The Great Tennessee Air Show is expected to draw in 50,000 people and more than $1 million in revenue next weekend in Smyrna, but an organizer said he is more interested another resource the event often entices: future pilots.

“There are countless people across the industry who make the comment to me that they wouldn’t have gotten into the business if it hadn’t been for this air show,” said John Black, executive director of the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport Authority, in a recent telephone interview.

The two-day event has drastically expanded since it began in Nashville in 1970, Black said. This year, the Blue Angels, a team of elite pilots with the U.S. Navy’s demonstration squadron, will be joined by more than a dozen civilian performers. Among them will be be Skip Stewart, a pilot who discovered his love for aviation while in Smyrna.

“My grandfather was a crop duster, so I was already into aviation,” Stewart said during a recent interview. “But Smyrna was the first airshow I went to, so I got inspired then for the first time... That was the moment that started my whole aviation career.”

Stewart studied aviation at Middle Tennessee State University and now flies cargo planes for a shipping company, he said. He is also a technical pilot who performs complex maneuvers at air shows around the region.

Such stories are not rare, Black said. A major roll of the air show is to expose a new generation to aviation. Smyrna is an ideal place to do it, Black added, as it is close to MTSU in Murfreesboro, where he teaches in the university’s popular aerospace program.

Recruiting pilots and maintaining the viability of the airport is essential to Rutherford County’s economic health, Black said. Approximately 80,000 flights took off or landed at the site last year, and the number of operations at the airport increases by an average of 4 percent every year. Many of the newer clients are large national corporations that have been attracted to the county due to the the local economy’s resiliency during economic downturn.

The air show should offer plenty of sights for future pilots and other aviation enthusiasts, Black said. A variety of prop planes and jets will be flown through maneuvers like low, high-speed passes. One of the attractions is even earthbound: a Shockwave semi truck loaded with a jet engine will race planes at speeds exceeding 300 miles per hour.

Crowds are eager to see the technical feats on display, Black said. Last year, the MTSU College of Business did an economic impact study that indicated the air show was responsible for $1.1 million in revenue in 2012.

This blast of income included ticket sales for the weekend event, and since most people only attend one day of the event, the air show also contributes to revenue for hotels, restaurants and other businesses, Black said. The performers alone will be responsible for as many as 300 hotel rooms booked between Friday and Monday.

Additionally, many of those who attend the event come from out of state, ensuring that outside revenue is spent within the county, Black said. Part of the attraction is due to the fame of the Blue Angels, who perform at a limited number of events every year. The squadron is famous for flying at high speeds while the craft are in close proximity.

“It says a lot about the community and the air show in general to be able to host the Blue Angels time and time again,” Black said.


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