BUSINESS: Are the Bournemouth Air Festival’s days now numbered?


In response to a previous article BH Living broke in July, BCP council put out a press release confirming there were no plans to shelve the Bournemouth Air Show in 2020. But in the background, some councillors are unhappy with it’s continuation. Could we be seeing a disappearance of the world-renowned show in the future over claims about its environmental impact?

With every year that passes, there are renewed calls for the much loved Air Festival to be disbanded in favour of more environmentally sustainable events and attractions. This year the voices grew louder although the threatened mass demonstrations by local environmentalists failed to materialise.

Some people are very keen on it and the status it gives Bournemouth, with others very vocally against because of the carbon emissions released by the planes, the excess amount of litter and extreme road congestion across the weekend. 

So, what is the solution? Can we continue to stand proud as one of the top ten air festivals worldwide, while still aware of the climate emergency that has been declared for the area?

BH living spoke to different councillors as well as business organisations in the BCP area to find out what the feeling is on the ground (excuse the pun!) about the world renowned show.

There is no doubt that the show attracts people from across the country and internationally. This year it is estimated that the display brought over 800,000 people to the south coast and Cllr Philip Broadhead, Deputy Leader of BCP Conservatives recognises the local economy boost: “The Air Festival is the most popular free annual event in the whole of the UK. Each year it thrills our residents and brings a million visitors to the conurbation where they spend more than £30 million in our shops, hotels and restaurants.

“The Conservatives introduced the Air Festival in 2008 and it has been fantastic for visitors, residents and jobs. We can be absolutely clear about this; while the Air Festival continues to be so popular, the Conservatives will support it 100% and we will fight all the way to stop BCP’s new chaotic coalition from destroying it.”

It is estimated that 110,000 litres of jet fuel was used over the four days of displays this year, producing roughly 275 tonnes of Co2 emissions. However, Bournemouth Air Festival organisers have pledged to offset carbon emissions by planting 275 trees in the local area. They say that for each tree planed a tonne of carbon will be saved in the Amazon Rainforest through the avoided deforestation project selected by the Air Festival. You can read more about the project here. 

However given that BCP council have declared a climate emergency in the area, could we be doing more? They say that climate change is a serious risk to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole’s future and have ‘pledged to make BCP Council and its operations carbon neutral by 2030, and to work with the wider community to look at how early the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole region can be made carbon neutral, ahead of the UK target of 2050.’

According to the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, in the year 2017, Bournemouth produced 585 Kiloton’s (kt) of Co2, and a total of 1378 (kt) of Co2 was produced from the BCP area. And although it shows that the amount of emissions in each area have significantly reduced over the last  years, there is still a long way to go if the council are going to reach their carbon neutral pledge. 

Green Party councillor Simon Bull, who proposed the climate emergency motion to the BCP council thinks that sacrifices need to be made: “The council have supported my motion to declare the climate emergency and to become carbon neutral by 2030 and it may mean we lose some of the things people like, but I would rather lose some things people like, so we can breathe the air and be able to live on the planet. Its a producer of air pollution which we don’t want, don’t need and can’t sustain going forward.”

Although he understands the appeal and the joy that the event brings to Bournemouth, he believes that we should invest in other events: “I do get the air festival, my son loves all the planes going over, and it is a shame to lose it but it might just be necessary.

“We have events such as Arts by the Sea Festival which is already very popular so it might be a case of expanding something like that. Is there an opportunity for an alternative electric vehicle show, a chance to really become creative and innovative making Bournemouth the place to go with your sustainable fuel solutions?”

Local Hotel Director, David Bailey, has been working in the Bournemouth hotel industry for over 20 years, and has witnessed the economic impact of every Bournemouth Air Show to date! And although he understands the environmental concerns , he believes that we are stepping in the right direction in terms of sustaining the event in the future: 

“I think anyone would agree that there are certainly climate issues globally, this year at the Air Festival, we’ve gone further than any other Air Festival, I believe, in offsetting the carbon emissions of the displays. We’re encouraging all the traders along the seafront to reduce or remove their single use plastics and all the council services and emergency services are being issued with reusable and refillable water bottles for the water filling stations all across the seafront. So, I think we’re going a long way to boost our green credentials and I think a lot of people have criticised what we’ve done, but rather than criticising it, it should be applauded and then look to move forward to see what else we can do.

“We’ve always encouraged people to use public transport during the air festival and the ‘Park and Ride’ scheme has been very good to try and keep vehicles out of the centre of town. I think there’s lots of things we can work on for the future. It would be a shame to see the end of the Bournemouth Air Festival, simply because it does so much for the town.”

We put some of the ideas proposed by Cllr. Bull of other more sustainable events taking the place of the airshow in the future.  “I don’t have a problem with another event” he responded, “as long as we work on that event to make sure it has the economic impact that the Air Festival has and also the profile that the Air Festival has.”

“Thousands of people rely on tourism for their livelihood in the town.  It’s something we should be encouraging as tourism across the BCP area is worth £1.2 billion a year- that’s figures with an awful lot of numbers on it!” He added.

So for now, it looks like the Bournemouth Air Festival will be around for another year at least. However, it seems like it may be on borrowed time as BCP Council continue working towards it’s carbon emissions targets. There is no doubt that the festival is well loved by not only the hundreds of thousands of visitors that it attracts each year, but also by local residents. The Festival creates jobs and much needed revenue for local businesses with many asking the question: “If not the Air Festival, what?”

What do you think? Would it be a mistake to drop the Air Festival? Is there a good alternative that BCP Council should consider? Why not  leave your comments below…






  1. Not everyone is a fan of the Bournemouth Air Festival.

    I used to be proud for being a life-long Bournemouth resident. But the things like the surf reef debacle, loss of the Winter Gardens and the Air Festival (since 2008) have changed that.

    Tourism has been the primary industry of Bournemouth for a long time. We have photos going back more than 100 years of visitors flocking to the seaside.
    Bournemouth was a place where people would go for sun, sea and sand. They would come here to get away from the noise and pollution of industrial cities … to relax and get some fresh air.

    The Air Festival has made a mockery of that. For anyone with breathing problems, or anyone who is housebound, suffers from anxiety or PTSD etc … it can be a real problem. Not everyone can “go away on holiday if you don’t like it” as some people suggested.
    My elderly relatives who lived through WWII dreaded the Air Festival … it only reminded them of the horrors they experienced and wished to forget (especially of being bombed or of dogfights above them). It seems that organizers in conjunction with the media, wished to try and glorify war.
    Every year I dread the time of the Air Festival. And with air tragedies not unheard of, it seems all the more risky each year. How many more people have to be injured or killed? At the very least, it should all be performed over the sea (especially the high speed, low altitude runs) and not over the homes of thousands of people (who are often elderly and housebound).
    If people want to enjoy aircraft: there are plenty of museums, books, games, simulators etc. Even making model planes, learning the patience and skill to paint them, can be a lot more rewarding for children.

    There are plenty of healthier alternative ways for Bournemouth to attract tourists. There could be more arts festivals, music festivals by the sea, Britain in Bloom entrants etc.
    As a town, country and planet … we should all be trying to make the environment a more pleasant, cleaner and healthier place.
    Millions of tourists came to Bournemouth before the Air Festival and plenty will still come to enjoy our wonderful beaches etc.

    If any resident made as much noise and pollution as the Air Festival, there would be hundreds of complaints.
    The noise causes just as much anxiety to animals and sensitive people as do fireworks. It’s very disruptive to birds and pets and some low passes actually make buildings and windows shake.
    The air pollution is just as bad, if not worse, as many bonfires and fireworks.

    Recent studies have shown how air pollution is causing more and more health problems for people, even affecting babies in the womb. Ultimately the Air Festival is a choice and we shouldn’t be choosing to cause more pollution. There are better, healthier choices for Bournemouth which will still attract plenty of tourists and keep local businesses happy.

    The motto of Bournemouth is “Pulchritudo et Salubritas”, Latin for “beauty and health”. For the environment, animals and residents … the Bournemouth Air Festival is arguably not that beautiful and it certainly isn’t healthy.

  2. As local business owners the Air Festival costs our company over 6k per year in lost revenue due to not being able to take our guests to local beauty spots due to traffic congestion and not being able to open windows in our Art Studio because of noise and air pollution.
    Whilst we appreciate the festival brings in a lot of revenue to the local economy the environmental impact has to be considered, maybe a bi annual event, reducing the emissions by half compared to the present yearly event.
    Not everyone enjoys the Air Festival!

  3. Having worked in the local aviation industry all my life, (I’m now retired) I enjoy the annual Air Pageant but feel it’s getting a bit predictable and stale. To slightly appease the climate change activists, would it not be an idea to scrap the Thursday show for 2020 and a further reduction in 2021 to two days by scrapping the Friday displays. The regularity and frequency of flying on the 2 remaining days could possibly be slightly increased to improve the enjoyment of the program. If the public hunger is still there for it to continue then maybe a two day Air Pageant is the future?
    Also the relevance of some of the Promenade exhibitors to the Air Pageant is lost on me and needs to be addressed. Quite probably they pay to be there simply to assist in the funding of the event?
    I also usually see too many parents dragging fractious children along who only want to ride the fairground attractions or demand ice creams and candy floss as their interest wanes in the boring bits between the flying displays.
    To lose the whole event would possibly be a bigger issue to the BCP Councils as the loss of revenue would be badly felt and impact on their budgeting for the year. Ultimately the final decision will be down to the Council and they will scrap/retain the event with their own agendas in mind.

  4. Perhaps the council could consislder reducing the amount of days the show is on and/ or try holding the show ever other year.
    Charge for car parking the length of the cliff tops to Hengistbury head all year with an overnight charge for those who’s camper Van’s remain overnight for the free air show, use the revenue towards offset.
    If we stop the air show completely, what’s next…. no wheels, no motorbikes on Poole quay, no steam fair, no tourists unless they come by train or electric car, assuming they are charged from clean power stations?
    Visitors who attend in their droves for the air show are going to need something amazing to encourage them if it stops.
    With regards to entertainment; just a thought, do those who advocated the end of such energy consuming leisure activities ensure they don’t fly away on holiday or use their cars for anything other than essential travel?

  5. Charlotte Wright on

    As a student living in Bournemouth, I understand the importance of the air show to the tourism industry and such as everyone else, am aware of the revenue it can potentially bring. However, I really do not understand how the council can declare a so called ‘climate emergency’ and still back an event such as this.

    We are all, or most, educated on the environmental costs of the air show, and it is not justifiable.
    No amount of trees planted or good intention can reverse the effects of 275 tonnes of Co2 emissions pumped into our atmosphere. I honestly think that Phillip Broadhead’s words in BH living are laughable! “…we will fight all the way to stop BCP’s new chaotic coalition from destroying it.” What an absolute joke, you can’t hide from the facts and I’d hope that no amount of money is worth sacrificing the entire planet, our home, in the long run. Yet, the conservatives go on to prove me wrong.

    I wish for people to see sense and not fall for the emotive language and basically, propaganda produced by apposing parties. If you wish for my generation, and for you children’s generation to have a future, please ask yourself, if it really worth it?

  6. As a Bournemouth resident, I have enjoyed the air festival for many years as have my children. However, knowing more about the environmental cost of air shows makes continuing the festival unconscionable.

    Bournemouth needs to be creative and look at other ways to attract visitors so that local businesses can still benefit from tourism. Squandering what’s left of our fossil fuel on entertainment cannot be justified any longer.

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