Airshow London to feature Canada’s first drive-in airshow

Airshow London announced on July 13 that it will be hosting Canada’s first socially distant, drive-in airshow to take place on Sept. 12 and 13 at London International Airport. The new format will feature a traditional air display, although static displays, food vendors and other walk-around features have been removed from the ticket.

The USAF Thunderbirds will be flying at Airshow London for the first time in 25 years. Maj. Ray Geoffroy Photo
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The airshow said a number of U.S. demo teams will be featured, including the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, who will be flying as part of the Airshow London roster for the first time in 25 years. According to Jim Graham, chair of the airshow’s organizing body, the American teams kept an open line of communication on their operations with the airshow throughout the pandemic, with many assuring him that if the airshow was happening, they would be flying.

“The U.S. demo teams are all still up and active and they kept us posted as they were going through their considerations surrounding the season,” said Graham. Among them, the F-22 Raptor Demo team and U.S. Army Golden Knights will be making an appearance, while the USAF C-17 Globemaster Demo Team also told the team in London that they wanted to participate in whatever the airshow had cooked up.

Canadian military aircraft participation in the show is unconfirmed to date. While Graham said the airshow is in contact with Royal Canadian Air Force officials, and that they will definitely be participating in some capacity, nothing has been set in stone yet.

“The RCAF, though they won’t have demo teams, we expect them to have some participation,” he explained. “We’re going to have some flying presence from the RCAF, what specifically it is whether it’s [helicopters] and jets, or one or the other, they’re still determining, but we’ll be announcing it as things unfold.”

The U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team has been confirmed for the Airshow London roster. 2nd Lt Sam Eckholm/USAF Photo

Graham is hoping to see one or two of the Canadian Forces Snowbirds jets during Airshow London to help celebrate the team’s 50th season and honour the memory of Capt Jenn Casey, who Graham said was close to many members of the Airshow London team.

The show’s new socially distant format will see guests arrive with a pre-purchased ticket that will allow entry for one car. They will be escorted to park in their own 25×20-foot viewing space and will be permitted to bring their own refreshments and listen to the airshow through their car radios.

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The Airshow London team got to work fast as the pandemic unfolded, in order to pivot from the traditional “festival” format to the new one. After speaking with the airshow’s partners — the airport, the city, provincial officials — to determine the feasibility of the operation, the wheels were in motion to bring the annual show to the community in a safe manner.

“It’s been a huge pivot but it’s been a lot of fun building it with the team,” said Graham. “The airport has been a tremendous partner, because they’re obviously not as busy as they were pre-pandemic, but they’re letting us use 75 acres of their taxiways, runways and aprons — it’s made a huge difference.

For those worried about social distancing, airshow officials said they have gone above-and-beyond to keep the space safe after consulting with provincial health officials. The show will be using 50 per cent more space than is typically required for a drive-in show under the current protocols, and will be exceeding the province’s guidelines for portable washrooms by 50 per cent, ensuring everyone has their own space and facilities when required.

“It’s so exciting to be able to do this event. I’ve been so impressed and proud of our volunteer team who made this happen,” Graham added. “The three and a half hours we’re going to have in the sky for our guests is going to be awesome.”

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