Saturday, December 17, 2016

Chicago Rockford Airport AirFest Indefinitely Suspended


"Oh, I think it's a great loss to the community."

The owner of Bella Luna Bakery, Polly Happach, reflecting on the fun times she had at the AirFest, taking her children to see it in past years.

"Oh God yeah, of course we're going to miss it, it was great," said Happach. "I mean, and we lived right outside the airport, so we could actually see the airplanes fly over and practice. There's nothing better than seeing the Blue Angels in a formation flying over your house. Yeah, we're going to miss it."

And she's not the only one.

I spoke to a long time attendee who's going to miss his times at the AirFest as well.

"We're going to miss a great weekend out at the air show volunteering, and seeing the show," said one frequent AirFest volunteer, Frank Perrecone. "And meeting all the participants coming through, especially for us at the pilots oasis."

But airport officials say recent changes have made AirFest too difficult.

Executive Director Mike Dunn saying in a statement  that "several of the new businesses we have recruited have nearly non-stop operations that make it very challenging to close the airport for four days. The traffic congestion incurred by AirFest would put a heavy burden on the operations of new businesses on the airport." 

Dunn specifically mentioning the soon to be open, AAR facility.

But what's good for the airport, won't be so good for area tourism.

The last AirFest drawing nearly 150,000 thousand attendees.

"It's very much a regional draw," said Josh Albrecht, the Director of Marketing and Public Affairs for the RACVB. "And it's important for the local economy because when those people come from out of town they have to stay, they have to eat, they have to shop, and we want them spending their money here."

And filling local hotel rooms could also pose a challenge.

"The impact that it will have for those hotels that don't have AirFest in for future years and stuff of that nature, I'm sure it'll see a big impact on that," said the General Manager for the Staybridge Hotel, Michael Daugherty.

The RACVB saying it's hard to see an event with so much potential go.

"That's part of the reason why it was so disappointing, that you saw an event that was still growing," said Albrecht. "Still maybe not reaching it's full potential yet, and now going away. It's definitely a disappointing day."

The AirFest was canceled last year because of a conflict with the defense department.

It had already been scheduled for this coming June before the decision to cancel the event was made.

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