Lowestoft airshow set to soar once more?

HOPES are high that the Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival will take off again next year.

The Journal can today reveal that �115,974 was collected in donations over the two days of this year's event – up by more than �30,000 on last year's rain-hit event, to the delight of the show's directors.

The total, collected from an estimated 384,000 visitors over the two days, has come a major boost for organisers as thoughts turn to their plans for 2012 – and the possibility of the first-ever weekend air festival.

In the lead-up to this year's event, the directors had urged visitors to make a minimum donation of �3 to secure air festival's future and warned that its future could be in doubt without more public support.

But with the bucket collection now counted, a spokesman said yesterday that 'the sum raised had brought a relieved smile to the event organisers' faces', as the two-day spectacular was largely reliant on this sum.

Air festival director Brian Hunter said he was delighted with the generous response from the public and grateful to the 300 volunteers from local community groups and charities who helped collect the money.

'We decided to increase the suggested donation level by �1 this year – to help to secure the financial future of the event,' he said. 'The extra incentive for all who donated �3 to receive a two for one voucher for Pleasurewood Hills and a discount on Marina Theatre Pantomime tickets – no doubt also helped to swell the collection.

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'I cannot praise too highly the wonderful band of volunteer collectors who were on duty from 7.30am to 6pm each day, who remained cheerful and greeted each visitor with a smile – even when they were being ignored,' he added. 'They all did a superb job.'

Now the organisers have about a month to make a final decision on whether to run a show next year, as they weigh up their income against the �310,000 costs of staging the event.

One option is to run the two-day event over a weekend earlier in the summer – possibly in June – in a effort to avoid a clash with the Olympic Games in London, which could also affect flight-path permissions.

Air festival managing director Paul Bayfield said that based on the estimated total crowd figures for the two days, about one in 10 people gave �3 but, taking into account that children were included in the visitor figures, it was more likely that about one in three adults put the 'minimum donation' into collection buckets.

Although this raised hopes for staging another show next year, it is by no means certain.

Mr Bayfield told The Journal: 'Not all our fundraising activities were as successful as the bucket collection; park and ride income was slightly down this year. We will not be able to make a final decision on next year's event until all our bills have been paid and our total income is known – probably by mid September.'

One of the airshow's new fundraising initiatives this year was the chance to win a car, and people are still being urged to buy �1 tickets for this competition up until the grand draw on September 21.

Mr Bayfield added: 'The weather was kind, the crowds turned out in their thousands and the pilots all gave brilliant flying displays – it was a great two days and we are indebted to the emergency services and to our vast team of helpers who made it all possible. Let's hope that the financial results allow us to do it all again next year.'

This year's show – the 15th staged – also marked the end of an era for the event.

After being involved in 14 of the 15 festivals, flying display director Brian Lewis bowed out at the end of this year's show. But he admitted he would be back next year 'in the crowds watching!'

'I have done this for 30 years but am now going to retire,' Mr Lewis said. 'I do a lot of air shows and Lowestoft is one of my favourites, It has worked very well over the years, and of course the low light would be the Harrier (which crashed into the sea in 2002) but there have been many highlights.'

Paying tribute to Mr Lewis as 'a consummate professional', Mr Bayfield said: 'He has actually been the proverbial rock for us. Brian is a very, very safe pair of hands and it has been really amazing to work with him.

'He has been brilliant for the Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival and we are really going to miss him.'