The Great State of Maine Air Show is coming back later this month after a two-year absence, but it’s a bit different than when it last took flight three years ago.
The show still will feature the Navy’s Blue Angels flying team, vintage aircraft, stunt flying and other crowd-pleasers. But this time, it also comes with a price tag.
Before Brunswick Naval Air Station was closed, the military picked up the tab for the show and admission was free. It drew an estimated 150,000 visitors in 2008.
Now, an arm of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority — the agency set up to market the former airbase and attract new businesses to it — is running the show, and it needs the revenue from ticket sales to help cover the estimated cost of up to $900,000.
The show no longer “gets hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer financing,” said Marty McMahon, the director of the air show.
Advance tickets will cost $15 for adults and $10 for most others, including children, seniors and active-duty military, retirees and dependents. Those who wait to buy tickets at the gate Aug. 27 or 28 will have to pay $5 more.
McMahon said he needs to sell about 32,000 tickets to cover the cost, which would seem a relatively easy task, based on past attendance. But so far, advance sales total only about 2,000 tickets, he said.
McMahon said he expects that number will pick up once it gets closer to the date and people can check weather forecasts to make sure they’re not going to get rained on or be forced to try to spot planes as they zip through clouds.
He also said the tickets purchased in advance are for one day of the weekend event, but can be used either Saturday or Sunday, so people can pick the better of the two days, weatherwise, to attend.
McMahon noted that a number of local groups, such as the Boy Scouts and high school sports booster clubs, will be selling concessions at the show as a fundraiser. Any money raised in excess of the costs, he added, will be given out as grants to local nonprofit organizations.
The show also features a business aviation expo in one of the former station’s huge hangars, featuring displays set up by companies involved in the aviation industry, McMahon said.
Maine has several companies that supply large aircraft manufacturers, such as Boeing or Airbus, he said, and also has companies such as Kestrel, a small plane manufacturer that’s setting up shop in Brunswick because of the facilities offered at the former base.
“A lot of people don’t know that Maine has a robust aerospace industry,” McMahon said.
It’s also an opportunity for the authority to show off the former base, which was ordered closed by the military restructuring committee six year ago and has been renamed Brunswick Landing. At one point, BNAS was home to 4,000 naval officers and enlisted personnel and had six patrol squadrons.
Now that it’s civilian property and a private operation, the authority has to cover show costs, from performance fees for the flying teams to fuel for the jets to hotel rooms for the pilots.
McMahon said the show is adding a Friday night edition to the traditional Saturday and Sunday event. He said there will be planes with fireworks on the wings and a fireworks display at the end of the evening and many of the pilots will be introduced at the evening event as well. Tickets for that event are $10 ($5 for those who qualify for discounts on the weekend tickets).
McMahon said the show is battling a situation that is making it hard to predict how many people will show up. For many, the air show was a summer tradition, but they’ve gone without it now for three years.
“People stopped searching for it after it went away, and people who were in a routine about going to the air show got out of that,” he said.
But it also snagged a pretty good spot on the calendar just before Labor Day weekend. And two other major air shows in New England are held earlier in the summer: a Rhode Island show was in June and a show in Portsmouth, N.H., takes place Aug. 13-14.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: