Making sure to clarify that he has no intentions of going to Las Vegas for a fun three-day fling, County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens asked for the Ways & Means Committee’s blessing to attend an air show conference in December.
A trip to Nevada would include costs of the county employee’s time for the three-day event, and a registration fee of $508. Hens said he will take care of the travel and lodging expense, and he feels it’s worth the investment during the preliminary planning stage of an air show at Genesee County Airport.
“We’re not sponsoring the Air Show. We're not the ones running the air show, but our airport is hosting an air show, and I feel it's important from an operational standpoint, as well as the safety to the visitors — the people that are going to come to the air show — that the county puts on a professional face and make sure we have a safe show and limit the liability for the county as much as we can,” Hens said to the committee Wednesday. “So the two things I'm most interested in with the conference are their air show 101 and air show 102 certifications, they are classes that they put on.”
Those two certification classes are more about airplane movements and operational needs at the airport, he said, versus things like concessions and gate entry fees.
“It's more about hosting the air show than it is operating an air show,” Hens said.
The schedule also includes a first-timers orientation, crisis communications, the human side of an air show and accidents: anticipating the unimaginable, and several other topics.
The International Council of Air Shows is scheduled for Dec. 12 through 15 in Las Vegas, and it’s a combination of a convention setting where flying acts can promote themselves to air shows across the country, and a series of training for air show operators and airport personnel to learn how to host this type of event to be “safe and proper,” he said.
Legislator Shelley Stein noted the mention of a military jet team and asked what types of aircraft will be landing at the county airport. Hens said that the committee has so far discussed items including a cold war era jet, which doesn’t require as much runway and support on the ground as a modern fighter jet F 22 or 23 would require. Due to the popularity and necessary advance booking or the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels, they won’t be in the show next year, he said.
It may be possible to borrow planes from Cleveland and Toronto and share them with other air shows during the same weekend.
“So they could get an F-35 or F-20 to fly by and do a short demonstration over the field, but they wouldn't land in our airport,” he said. “And they wouldn't require any ground activity support once on the field. It would just be a flyover from Toronto, do a 15-minute deal, and fly to Cleveland and do a 15-minute deal. And that way three air shows could share military assets.”
Those scheduling details will happen at the conference, he said, and isn’t anything the county needs to be involved with. He agreed with Legislator Marianne Clattenburg, who summarized his trip’s goal as doing what he can to protect a county asset of the airport.
“Exactly. We have invested a lot of money there. And so this has to come off without any damage or any liabilities,” he said.
Legislator Gary Maha emphasized the county’s need to not financially support the air show, and others agreed. Hens mentioned logistics, and being cognizant about providing handicap-accessible parking for those in wheelchairs or who may have difficulties with walking.
“Things that we need to think about from a facility standpoint, and protect ourselves from a trip and fall type of activity. So all that stuff gets talked about in the sessions,” he said. “The travel requests I put in simply asked for the registration fee. I'm willing on my part to get myself out there. I have a place to stay out there; that's already paid for. And airline miles, so it's not really coming out of pocket, it’s simply the time away from the office and the registration fee for the conference.”
Clattenburg wanted to confirm that Hens — since he’d be on the clock while out west — would be available for Zoom meetings or other needs, especially “regarding our water issues.” Yes, he would, Hens said.
County Manager Matt Landers believes it’s a worthwhile trip to take, he said.
“I think it's important for him to have this knowledge with us having a large-scale airshow like this coming to our community,” Landers said. “I agree with legislators. I don't think by having Tim getting this background knowledge it shows that we are sponsoring anything, just that we want to be prepared.”
The committee voted to approve the request and pass it onto the full Legislature for vote.
Hens said he’d be discussing the show with committee members later on Wednesday.
Dennis Dunbar, director of Air Show Operations for EAA AirVenture, president of Dunbar Airshows, and event organizer for the ICAS Safety and Operations Subcommittee, has been named committee chairman for this local event, Hens said.
Top photo from Hens' online media account; above, Dennis Dunbar photo from Air Show Magazine.