The provisions in FAA Handbook 8900.1 permitting “Official Photographers” to be designated “Essential Personnel” and have access inside an air show’s aerobatic box have become problematic. Numerous photographers, claiming media status, are requesting access to the sterile area contrary to this FAA provision. 8900.1 345-C contains this note: “Essential personnel do not include news media or photographers (other than official photographers) for the event.” Similar wording appears in Canadian air show guidance and regulations.
Extra people moving about in the sterile area are a distraction to the performers, show officials and spectators. Additionally, the show is accepting unnecessary risk and liability for very little in return.
ICAS suggests taking a hard line. It’s your box. You decide who, if anyone, can go into it. Don’t accept the additional risk; just say “no.” If you say “no” consistently, you don’t have to spend a bunch of time or emotion defending that decision. And don’t give in to the, “But you let me do it last year” or “But I get full access at the show I go to in such and such a town.” Your box. Your rules. Your decision.
As an alternative, if you feel obligated to provide one, consider creating a paid access photographers’ pit. Give them clear shooting angles and early morning access to the ramp when no spectators are present and the lighting is better. Assign a single person who knows the plan and photography (perhaps your Official Photographer) as the contact person. And charge them a premium for this special access and preferred location. Turn it into a profit center for your show. Several shows – including the California Capital Air Show, the Royal International Air Tattoo, the Dayton Air Show and Thunder over Michigan – have had success with this new model that presents that rare win/win situation for all involved.