Parking at Your Show


If the air show industry was asked to identify the most common challenge facing new or struggling air shows, the answer would very likely be: parking, parking, parking.  Even the most experienced and established shows will admit that coming up with the most efficient method for getting air show patrons from the major roads to the parking areas and then to the event site is one of the largest challenges to ensuring a top tier experience. And in multiple ICAS spectator surveys, traffic and parking have consistently been identified as the one area in most need of improvement.

Thankfully, though not surprisingly, the same shows that have most effectively dealt with the many challenges related to parking have all had one similar component of their solution. They have identified the smartest problem-solving oriented person in their organization and given him/her the responsibility of solving the event’s parking and traffic challenges.  Allowing the individual in charge of your parking free reign can be risky, but if you are allowing the smartest person to make several judgment calls the result will likely be the optimum flow of air show patrons.

And there are some other common themes at the shows where parking challenges have been solved…or at least tamed.

Signage: It’s not possible to have too much parking and traffic signage. At every crossroads or intersection. At every stop sign or traffic light. At every juncture where the driver of an arriving or departing vehicle might have a question or moment of indecision. In each of those locations, you should have a sign that answers the question and eliminates the indecision. Will that much signage be a significant additional expense for you show? Absolutely, but well-made signs should be reusable and, in any case, even the most expensive signs are a small price to pay for improved traffic and parking.

Traffic control personnel: Police officers (on or off duty) are the best solution to this problem out on the streets surrounding your parking areas, but they need to be fully briefed and intimately familiar with the overall plan and how they fit into it. Sadly, many of the worst air show traffic problems in North America this year were caused by traffic cops who abandoned their post at the worst possible time. And remember that departure time is every bit as critical as arrivals.

No choices: Indecision among drivers, conversations between drivers and traffic control personnel, and choices of any kind are guaranteed to cause traffic problems. Our industry’s best practitioners make all the choices for the drivers once they commit to a certain entrance or exit route. With good signage and well-briefed traffic control personnel, there is no need for traffic to stop until the vehicles are parked.

Reality check: If your show expects 15,000 people per day, you need 5,000 parking spots or approximately 40 acres of parking. If you expect 30,000 people each day, you need 10,000 parking spots or about 80 acres of parking. If you have less parking than that, you will have problems. Shows that have well-managed parking and traffic issues also typically have a realistic understanding of how many cars they will be parking each day.

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The International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) is a trade association dedicated to building and sustaining a vibrant air show industry to support its membership. To achieve this goal, ICAS demands its members operate their air show business at only the highest levels of safety, professionalism, and integrity.