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Huntington Beach’s Great Pacific Airshow is a no-go, as organizers yield to coronavirus concerns

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds at the 2019 Great Pacific Airshow in Huntington Beach.
Organizers of the Great Pacific Airshow recently announced the three-day spectacle, scheduled for Sept. 18 through 20, has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

This year’s annual Great Pacific Airshow in Huntington Beach — an event whose aerial feats have drawn hundreds of thousands of spectators to the city’s pier and beachfront area since 2016 — has been canceled.

Organizers recently announced the three-day spectacle scheduled for Sept. 18 through 20 would not take place, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and restrictions placed on large in-person gatherings.

Kevin Elliott, president of Pacific Airshow, LLC and director of the show, said he held out hope the show might still be held as planned with social-distancing measures in place. He even explored the feasibility of moving the entire affair 3 miles out to sea and having spectators watch it from boats.

But in late June, as Orange County coronavirus cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations began to surge, Elliott said he began to see the writing on the wall.

“We started hearing more and more about those cases rising, and it seemed evident we were going to have an uphill battle,” he said Tuesday. “We ultimately came to the realization that the unfortunate reality was the state was not going to issue any permits for outdoor events.”

The Great Pacific Airshow in Huntington Beach
This year’s Great Pacific Airshow in Huntington Beach will not take place, organizers confirmed Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Great Pacific Airshow annually thrills audiences as three international jet teams — the Air Force Thunderbirds, United Kingdom’s Red Arrows and Canada’s Snowbirds — engage in what Elliott described as “a spectacle of engineering and aviation skill.”

Participants from Newport to Long Beach might also catch performances from the Red Bull Air Force or watch county fire department aerial units demonstrate water drops. Last year, two jet-pack-wearing racers zoomed before audiences, the first time such a feat was performed as part of a public display.

Given the complicated logistics of booking performers, seeking airspace permits and securing marine resources to ensure public safety, each event typically takes about two years to pull off, according to Elliott.

“We’re already well underway planning our 2022 show,” he said.

The Great Pacific Airshow, in Huntington Beach, on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.
Organizers of the Great Pacific Airshow estimate visitors annually spend about $68 million and generate $3.4 million in local tax revenue.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

While this year’s cancellation will amount to a revenue loss Elliott estimated to be in the range of several million dollars, it could have a wider impact on Huntington Beach’s finances.

According to a 2019 report on the economic impacts of the Great Pacific Airshow, the annual event is thought to generate about $68.1 million in local spending and $3.4 million in local revenue as visitors book hotels, dine in town and hold VIP watch parties throughout the weekend.

“Of the 741,848 unique event attendees, 535,426 were incremental visitors who live outside Huntington Beach and visited the city primarily to attend the event,” the report indicated, adding that the average visitor spends about $255 in the city while visiting.

Elliott said sponsors and corporate attendees who’d planned to attend the three-day event in September have already rolled over their investments into next year’s planned event.

“While we’re sad for 2020 — it would have been undoubtedly our best show yet — we’re absolutely encouraged about 2021. We have some huge things in store for next year,” he said.

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