Watsonville air show grounded after 50 years

WATSONVILLE — A 50-year-old air show will be grounded this year, with no aerobatics and no performances, after the nonprofit Watsonville Fly-In and Air Show decided to hand over the reins to the city.

Hank Wempe, the fly-in and air show’s board president, said declining attendance and corporate sponsorships forced board members to donate funds out of their own pockets to keep the event going the past few years.

The board was tired of just scraping by, Wempe said.

“What we need is movers and shakers and we didn’t have them on our board,” Wempe said.

Now the Watsonville Municipal Airport, which is owned by the city of Watsonville, will run the show.

Maria Esther Rodriguez, Watsonville’s assistant director of public works and utilities, said although the air show won’t have its aerobatics exhibition or performances Sept. 5, it will display antique and historic aircraft on the ground.

“I would categorize it more as a transformation rather than a cancellation,” Rodriguez said.

The show will be one day instead of two, and unlike recent years, tickets will be free. Young Eagles, a youth aviation group, will give its annual demonstration, and many food vendors will be present. The event also will feature a “kids zone” and a Friday night movie, as in previous years, she said.

The goal is to focus the events on children and veterans, she said. The airport also hopes to cut costs by half, since in 2013 the event cost around $100,000, due to costly performances, liability, insurance and marketing, she said.

“This year, in hearing what our residents here wanted to see, and what our council was looking for, was something that was family friendly,” Rodriguez said.

Wempe said the nonprofit is keeping its 501(c)3 status and an open bank account with $50, in case another group wants to step in.

He said he believes the airport will struggle to break-even with the event. Since 9/11, his group has had trouble fundraising.

“I think that’s the last place people wanted to be, an airport, after the twin towers went down, especially on Memorial Day. The economy’s made a big difference. It’s just everything,” Wempe said.

In 2001, the nonprofit raised around $45,000 in corporate sponsorships. Last year, the group had around half that amount in sponsorships, he said.

Wempe said he and a few other board members will continue to volunteer with the event this year, but will not be in charge of fundraising. The last two years, his group has hired a consultant to run the air show, but that was a “catastrophe,” Wempe said. He said the group vowed to reach the air show’s 50th anniversary, which it did last year, and now it’s ready to hand over the reins.

“The local people haven’t been willing to support the airport. It’s probably the way we had held it. I don’t know. We just couldn’t figure out the right way to do it,” Wempe said.

Wings Over Watsonville

What: Family friendly fair showcasing antique airplanes, food and kids events.When: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 5.

Where: Watsonville Municipal Airport, 100 Aviation Way, Watsonville.

Cost: Free.

Details or donate: 831-768-3575 or www.watsonvilleflyin.org.