The Lewis-McChord Air Expo, one of the nation’s largest air shows, saw its lowest attendance in at least four years last weekend despite featuring a trio of big-name aerial acts.
But organizers say the show will go on in 2014.
They estimated a total of 150,000 people turned out Saturday and Sunday, on par with the turnout seen prior to 2008. The base holds the air show every other year. Reported attendance was more than 250,000 two years ago and more than 375,000 people in 2008.
This year’s show featured the Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s premier aerial stunt team; the civilian-owned Patriots Jet Team; and the Army’s Golden Knights parachute jump team. There were about 20 other aerial acts as well as 50 static displays.
Before the show, organizers expected attendance to top 350,000. But it didn’t turn out that way, as the two-day crowd total came in at less than half the estimate – despite the Thunderbirds returning for the first time in four years.
Below-normal temperatures and drizzle likely dampened the second-day turnout, said Bud McKay, a Lewis-McChord spokesman. The weather delayed by 20 minutes the nearly supersonic flyby of the B-1 bomber and scrapped the planned tandem parachute jump of Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, a Medal of Honor recipient.
It’s possible that traffic tie-ups after Saturday’s event could have kept crowds away the following day, McKay said. Attendees reported it took three hours to leave the base Saturday. Some took their complaints to social media. Others praised the event and performances.
Organizers opened up twice as many gates for Sunday’s show. Combined with the lighter crowds, no major traffic problems were reported.
The event director was unavailable for comment Monday.
McKay said organizers are reviewing every aspect of the event, including traffic control, to make improvements for the next air expo, scheduled for 2014.
Lewis-McChord officials said they consider this year’s expo a success despite the challenges. It remains the biggest public event held behind the gates of the base south of Tacoma.
“We gave them a great show,” McKay said.