Articles

Opinion: California Capital Airshow Runs Smoothly Thanks to Efforts of Local Officials

While the mobile command center definitely impressed, I was more profoundly struck by the reality that Sacramento County officials had indeed lived up to their promise of correcting mistakes of the past.

by / March 17, 2008

The mobile command center serving as the communications and logistics hub for public safety personnel.

There aren't too many large events that families can really enjoy together. Parents know this well, many having suffered through countless, awful "kid" movies or barely escaping Chuck E. Cheese without acquiring some dreadful, infectious disease. But there is at least one thing almost any parent and any kid will love equally -- an airshow. Tickets are generally cheap, all manner of gigantic aircraft are available to be explored, the views are great, and the stars of the shows are loud, fast and technologically impressive. Add to the mix a healthy (or sometimes excessive) dose of patriotism and you'd be hard pressed to find a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Two years ago, airshows returned to the Sacramento, Calif., region after a long absence. The Sacramento County Airport System worked hard to secure a show lineup that would draw a crowd from a population that hadn't had a local airshow in years. As it turned out, the first California Capital Airshow was too successful. Show officials grossly underestimated how many visitors the show would have. As a result, traffic became an unmitigated nightmare, with many would-be attendees spending hours trying to cover less than two miles from freeway to airfield. Food and beverage vendors ran out of supply mid-show. Parking was an exercise in insanity and the far too few number of airshow volunteers were simply unable to manage to unexpected crush of humanity.

Following the debacle, airshow officials pledged to radically improve the two-day event for 2007. Unfortunately, people stayed away in droves, most still scarred from their ordeal the year before. Attendance markedly declined and the airshow itself was a money loser.

Over the weekend I attended this year's show. I was there to take a look at the mobile command center that was serving as the communications and logistics hub for public safety personnel. And while the mobile command center definitely impressed, I was more profoundly struck by the reality that Sacramento County officials had indeed lived up to their promise of correcting mistakes of the past.

The best way to illustrate how much the entire show had been improved is to briefly recall my personal experience. The group I was with went down to our local train station and boarded the county light rail, which was free to ride for those who bought their tickets online. Upon arriving at the station nearest the airfield, a dozen or so police officers and volunteers guided disembarking passengers to waiting buses. Despite the mass of people arriving via light rail every 15 minutes, there were more than enough buses to handle passengers. We were quickly boarded onto a bus, which was also free, and were driven quickly to the airfield. The buses stopped right in front of the entry gates, where military personnel swiftly collected tickets and checked bags. This process, from boarding the train to being at the airshow, covered 12 miles and took just over 30 minutes. The manner in which airshow staff had organized this year's event was phenomenal, especially considering it had taken six times that long to cover one-sixth the distance two years ago.

Inside the gates, the crowd steadily grew. But this time, instead of lacking food and water, there was half a runway's worth of vendors offering so much food and drink it was tough to decide what to pick. Seating along the tarmac was ample and clearly defined. Bathrooms were in sight in every direction but up. The weather cooperated and everyone appeared to be having a wonderful time.

After a day's worth of watching aerial acrobatics and bone-rattling flyovers, it was time to head home. Things didn't look promising as the line to board buses swelled. But as people trudged

forward, the crowd began to form into three distinct columns. Up ahead, local police were efficiently moving people onto wave after wave of buses. My group made it from the back of the pack onto to bus in about 12 minutes. Back at the light rail station, signs and volunteers directed the crowd to the appropriate place in order to board the correct train.

People were in such good spirits airshow staff were able to engage the waiting passengers in a cheering contest. It was the only time in my life I'd witnessed two groups of people trying to out cheer each other about their respective destinations.

Back on the train, conditions were cramped, but after a few stops the crowd dispersed. From the time the Blue Angels made their last flyover to the time I was unlocking my car, only an hour had passed. Regarding the success with which the Sacramento County Airport System had organized this year's show, perhaps most telling evidence of all was when I was inside that mobile command center. There, I was watching surveillance cameras, some of which showed traffic conditions near the airfield. Two years ago, the scene was a parking lot. This year, it looked like just another Saturday afternoon.

Local government got it right this time, and I'm glad I was there to see it for myself.

Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.