• Pacific Airshow Gold Coast promises a new experience that will appeal to everyone, not just aviation enthusiasts. (still from PAGC video)
    Pacific Airshow Gold Coast promises a new experience that will appeal to everyone, not just aviation enthusiasts. (still from PAGC video)

Kevin Elliott wants to shake-up the air show circuit in Australia by producing the best air display this country has ever seen, putting to bed the idea that air shows need to be held in gritty outfields with line-ups that feature the same aircraft you saw at the last show.

Elliott is the CEO of events and media company Code Four, which is behind the very successful Pacific Airshow held at Huntington Beach in California each year. In 12 months time, Elliott and his team will leverage that success in Australia by holding Pacific Airshow Gold Coast (PAGC) off Surfers Paradise beach.

The dates announced overnight are 18-20 August 2023, when PAGC will transform the beach into a family-friendly festival of entertainment and aviation for three days.

The formula for PAGC is certainly different: people sit on a beach surrounded by entertainment, sensory experiences, food vendors and other attractions, whilst in front of them some of the best air show displays in the world zoom into and out of a defined box over the water, staging out of nearby airports.

You can even see the show free by plonking yourself down on a beach towel, or parking yourself on a jet ski offshore, but only those who shell out for a ticket will have access to the show precinct and the experiences that brings.

Given the string of broken hearts left behind by attempts to hold commercial air shows in Australia, this venture is ambitious, but Elliott is confident that once he has built it, the people will come.

"Our goal is to see a few hundred thousand come down to Gold Coast and specifically Surfers Paradise for this event," Elliott told Australian Flying.

"I think that would be very successful. Huntington Beach got around 500,000 over three days in the first year, but we could see less than that at Gold Coast and it still be a success."

Elliott predicts that if PAGC follows the Huntington model, crowds will double each year over the first three years of the show. He is banking the success of the show on using Huntington as bait for people and believes the beach itself will be a major drawcard.

"One advantage we have is the history of doing this on Huntington Beach, so we can talk about our success and share videos so people can see more or less what the experience is going to be," he said, "At Huntington it was a big unknown the first time we did it.

"Being at the beach is a big drawcard. We like to pitch the event as really being a family-friendly lifestyle festival with all sorts of things to see, touch and experience, which just so happens to be back-dropped by one of the world's best air shows."

Given the strength of some of the best air shows around the world–RIAT, Farnborough, Planes of Fame, Thunder over Michigan–Elliott and crew will have to bring some very spectacular assets to PAGC to match the aspiration. That's where the contacts formed from the Huntington event will prove invaluable.

"We're not actually revealing who any of our performers are at this point because we're still curating that line-up and we don't want to announce something and then have something operational come along a de-rail that," he said.

"We typically start making performer announcements about six months out, so we're a few months away for telling you who's coming.

"I can tell you though we have early asset commitments from the US Department of Defence; definitely Air Force and Navy and we're talking to the Marines.

"The Australian Defence Force has given us all possible indications that they're going to fully support the event, but they're a little bit coy about asset commitment as well. But we're tracking very well for all of those things.

"I want to point out that this is not going to be a regurgitation of other shows that most people are used to seeing at local air shows. This is going to have assets from all over the world, both US and Australian plus other allied nations. We have a robust pipeline of international participation."

According to Elliott, the flying line-up will be about 50% military and 50% civil. Given that PAGC has already signed Matt Hall as an ambassador, you can probably write his name down in ink as being on the card.

With an air show planned only a beach-ball's throw away from an international airport and CASA long-stated determination to not have accidents at Australian air shows, good relationships with major stakeholders will be crucial to the success of PAGC.

"We worked through a lot of stuff well before it was approved by Gold Coast council, Elliott points out. "They were the first stakeholders we engaged with almost three years ago.

"CASA has deemed the site satisfactory to hold an air show, Gold Coast Airport is firmly behind it and Airservices Australia is across all the details.

"From an airspace perspective, the show will be de-conflicted with Gold Coast Airport and we have a full-time Air Operations Director who does nothing but deal with airspace requirements relative to air shows, and he has hundreds of air shows under his belt, so we're pretty much experts in this area.

"We're confident in our ability to put on a safe show and do it in a way that is not disruptive to the air space around Gold Coast."

That's easy to believe once you consider that Huntington Beach is held smack in the middle of one of the world's busiest aviation traffic areas and right under the approaches of Orange County, Long Beach and LA International airports. Running something similar with only Gold Coast Airport to worry about should be a stroll on the beach for the team at Code Four.

However, the operations team are going to need to learn the Australian way of doing things, which Elliott acknowledges has already led to some variations to the way the formula is applied in the USA, but believes CASA is impressed with the expertise Pacific Airshows brings to Australia.

"We obviously recognise that there are differences between the way CASA does things and the way we do things. I think one of the positives early on is that we were excited to learn from CASA and they were excited to learn from us.

"Our air boss Wayne Boggs is probably the most pre-eminent air boss in the world. He teaches air bossing classes in the USA and has set the standard. When they [CASA] researched our team and the level of expertise we would bring to the table, there was a level of excitement to share that knowledge and default to a standard that would bring everybody to the next level."

But an air show can be brilliantly organised with the best aviators in the world and still crash and burn because the financial numbers are red at the end of the column and not black. Most local air shows here are run for the benefit of charities and attempts to turn a profit have customarily failed spectacularly. Despite that, Elliott believe PAGC has the formula and the product to be viable straight out of the box.

"Our mission at Pacific Airshows is to re-define the air show experience," he says." We're very much trying to make this a commercial enterprise in much the same way that a Formula One race is the place to be seen; it has that sexy appeal.

"Air shows are the Number One motorsport on planet Earth by attendance, but no-one has ever made two nickels to rub together in the air show business. So we're positioning PAGC to be in a location that appeals to a very broad audience that is non-endemic to aviation.

"You have to be a passionate aviation fan to want to go to Avalon or other places and stand beside a hot runway and watch aeroplanes. This is a process of showing people that an air show is not what people have experienced in the past. This is a true outdoor lifestyle festival with integration of pop-art, entertainment, urban air mobility technology and a whole lot of really cool stuff.

"It just so happens to be back-dropped by this action-packed non-stop four-hour plus air show."

Pacific Airshow Gold Coast is on 18-20 August 2023 at Surfers Paradise beach. More information is on the PAGC website.

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