Attendance down at first ever Air Show / Fair weekend

by: TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Greg Colyer amazes Oregon International Air Show crowds in his T-33 Shooting Star that showcases the capability of this Korean War-era two-seat version of the P-80 jet fighter.Attendance was down around 10 percent for both the 2013 Oregon International Air Show and Washington County Fair this year. Because both events were held just across the street from each other for the first time this year, organizers say the drop may have been caused by worries over additional traffic congestion and noise from the air show interfering with the fair — problems that did not seem to actually occur.

“We’re disappointed that attendance was down and think it was caused by the perceptions of problems that didn’t happen,” says Leah Perkins-Hagele, director of the Washington County Fair Complex.

Air show spokesman Steve Callaway says the cancelation of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels may have undermined its attendance. The popular aerobatic team was forced to drop out because of federal budget cuts.

“It’s one thing to have never announced the Blue Angels. It’s another thing to have them and lose them. It’s more disappointing,” says Callaway.

According to Perkins-Hagele, the turnstile count at the fair was 100,096 people over the four-day run. That is 9 percent lower than last year, the first drop since TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Mike Wiskus flies his Lucas Oil Pitts in the Oregon International Air Show. This 310 horsepower machine allows him to perform spins and flips to entertain the crowd.

Callaway says attendance at the air show was around 60,000 visitors over three days. The Friday show, which features a fireworks display, was the most popular day with 21,340 people in attendance. Saturday drew 19,425 and Sunday stands at about 17,000, a number that is likely to increase when all tickets are counted.

This year’s show was headlined by the Patriots Jet Team, which has drawn around 75,000 visitors in the past, Callaway says.

Zack McDowall attended his first Oregon International Air Show on Sunday. Munching on a sugary treat a full two hours before the show was set to begin, Zack said he was excited about “seeing all the different kinds of airplanes” that would be flying and on display at the Hillsboro Airport.

Zack was accompanied on his walk through the displays by Steven Freise, a family friend. For Friese, 64, it was the 10th time he’d come to a show. A pilot with a small plane at the Scappoose Airport, Friese said he keeps returning because, “They always put on a good show.” Although Freise was disappointed the U.S. Navy Blue Angels had cancelled because of federal budget cuts, he was still looking forward to other performers. “I’m just interested in planes,” he explained.

Leo Lotito, a traffic officer with the Bend Police Department, agrees traffic was not particularly bad over the weekend. Lotito and three other Bend traffic officers came over Thursday to help man control stops at intersections and patrol around the airport. Lotito said the visit was part of a regular exchange with the Hillsboro Police Department, which sends traffic officers to Bend to help out with the annual Bicycle Classic road race held around there.

“Hillsboro really knows what it’s doing. The’ve got the situation well under control,” said Lotito.

Across Cornell Road at the Washington County Fairgrounds Complex, the animal exhibits and competition went smoothly Sunday morning, even as jets roared overhead at the airport. One 4-H volunteer who asked not to be identified said the Monster Truck Show at the fair on Saturday night disturbed the horses more than the air show — including it’s traditional Friday night fireworks display.

“The planes and fireworks add to the festivities. The Monster Trucks are just too loud,” said the volunteer, who noted that generators on many of the campers and trailers parked overnight on the fairgrounds were also noisy.

Overall, however, the fair seemed to attract many of its traditional fans. All of its barns were full of horses, cows, pigs, goats — and even alpacas.

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