60 Ramp Management Tips

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During a fast-paced, information-packed session at the 2016 ICAS Convention, six ICAS members participated in a presentation that provided the audience with helpful tips and advice on many different aspects of managing and improving their display areas at the rate of one tip per minute for a full hour.  

The latest in a series of “60 Tips in 60 Minutes” sessions organized by ICAS, the session drew a large crowd and was one of the top-rated educational sessions at our 2016 ICAS Convention. ICAS offers an abridged version of all 60 tips here for those of you who were not able to attend the actual session. 

Panelists: 

  • Sharon Shortt, San Francisco Puffs & Stuff
  • Joe Reynolds, Red Frog Events
  • David Schultz, David Schultz Airshows
  • Jerry O’Neill, Airdales Air Show Operations
  • Everett Gibson, Wings over Houston
  • Mike Martin, Rhode Island National Guard Air Show
  1. Build and position the concessions portion of your ramp recognizing that 50% of concession sales are “impulse” purchases. (Shortt)

When patrons see everything being cooked fresh and can smell the food, concessions sales increase. When concessions booths are located close enough to prospective customers that they don’t have to go on a 20-minute hike to buy a pretzel or piece of pizza, concessions sales increase.

  1. Consider adding seating and shade near your food and beverage areas. (Reynolds)

When your fans are hungry, thirsty, or just need some time off their feet, shade and seating will help make your show a more pleasant experience. It can be as simple as adding umbrellas to tables or as elaborate as turning it into an experience in itself by adding tenting, picnic tables, and other entertainment.

  1. Keep a photographer’s frame of mind when parking the aircraft. (Schultz)

Consider leaving space around the aircraft for good photos without a lot of tents, vendors, portable toilets, and other items around the airplanes. Think about sun angles in the morning and late afternoon, too.

  1. Create a performer pit. (O’Neill)

If you create a “Performer Pit” where each performer has a slot and can interact with the public, you can increase the experiential nature of your event and make it more memorable for your customers. The pit should extend into the crowd area somewhere along the flight line.

  1. Know your budget; stay within it. (Gibson)

As you consider what type of static aircraft to invite, establish and then stay within your budget. In some cases, a single aircraft and its support requirements can overwhelm your budget. The person controlling invitations must learn to say, “No.”

  1. Create “pre-entry corrals” to manage incoming spectators.  (Martin)

In an effort to alleviate long lines at each entry way prior to the opening of the gates, consider building “corrals” for spectators. If you conduct your security screening outside these areas, they can act as holding areas for your customers as they wait for the gates to open.

  1. Most spectators walk straight to the crowd line when they arrive at your show. (Shortt)

At most shows, you will seldom see patrons walking off to a less crowded area; they might miss some of the action! So, food, beverage and novelty booths closest to show center will do extremely well. But if booths are too close to the crowd line, they could be blocked by the crowd and be cut off to patrons.

  1. Offer upgrade packages with VIP amenities. (Reynolds)

From preferred/enhanced viewing areas, shade and complimentary food and beverages to elevated seating, performer interaction and close-in parking, your fans will be willing to pay if you’re willing to get a little creative and push the boundaries. At our Firefly Music Festival, fans were willing to pay up to ten times the price of a general admission ticket for special amenities.

  1. Take pro-active steps to limit pedestrian vs. vehicle interaction. (Schultz)

Create designated driving lanes to separate cars, trucks and golf carts from spectators. Limit ramp access to those drivers who have been properly trained/briefed. Never allow minors to drive golf carts. Statistics say your show is much more likely to have a serious ramp vehicle accident than an aircraft accident. Plan accordingly.

  1. Develop a roving audio tour (O’Neill)

Outfit a knowledgeable roving interviewer with a microphone and speaker system. Turn him loose to provide details and context to customers interested in learning more about your static aircraft. The tours can be done in the morning before the flying starts or they can go all day.

  1. Know the size, dimensions, support requirements, crew size, expected arrival time and preferred departure time for every static aircraft. (Gibson)

From towing equipment and sleeping room requirements to parking strategies and arrival/departure scheduling, your best tool for managing static aircraft is a comprehensive understanding of every detail associated with the aircraft you have invited onto your ramp.

  1. Position centrally located “bank” for collecting air show cash. (Martin)

Your central money processing facility should be accessible to those who must use it. It should be away from pedestrian traffic on your ramp, but close enough to be a convenient drop-off point for vendors. And its location should be discreet enough to avoid the attention of any possible “bad actors.”

  1. All aircraft need to be at least 50 feet away from any booth or cart using propane. (Shortt)

The open flames and other cooking that go on in many of the food tents do not mix well with aircraft.  Insufficient separation of booths/carts using propane and aircraft is also a violation of fire department regulations.

  1. Be thoughtful about placing portable toilets. (Reynolds)

When placing toilets, consider servicing requirements, food tents and viewing areas. Can the service truck access the toilets without driving through the middle of the ramp? Will toilet odors drift into food service areas? Will toilets block viewing areas?

  1. Consider ground activities in prime areas of the public display area. (Schultz)

Silent drill teams, robotic demonstrations, live music, plane pull competitions, and working dog exhibitions can all add additional entertainment value to your event. You can also contact local Guard and Reserve units and ask them to display non-aircraft vehicles and equipment.

  1. Organize and conduct a public tram tour (O’Neill)

To help the elderly, young parents and your other “mobility challenged” spectators see everything you’ve assembled on your ramp, consider setting up a tram tour. A knowledgeable “tour guide” can be on a microphone and inform the riders about some of the aircraft on display.

  1. Don’t forget to say thank you. (Gibson)

For your military statics, send thank you messages to the crew and wing commander/base leadership. It’s the right thing to do. It reminds them that you appreciate that they opted to spend their weekend at your event. And, if you know the dates of your next show, it wouldn’t hurt to mention them somewhere in your message.

  1. Build “cutaways” into your crowd line for emergency response vehicles. (Martin)

Build cutaways or crowd line crossing points at multiple points in your crowd line to give emergency vehicles a place to move from runway side to crowd side or crowd side to runway side in the event of an emergency.

  1. Involve concessions companies in ramp lay-out decisions. (Shortt)

This eliminates problems during set up and operations at the air show. Because they do many air shows each year, most concessionaires know what problems to avoid and how to maximize convenience and concessions sales. Early communication also helps build relationships between operations personnel and concessions representatives.

  1. Be mindful of trash needs when laying out your ramp. (Reynolds)

If you include placement of dumpsters and trash receptacles in your planning, trash operations will be simplified. If an area will produce significant waste, like a food tent or shade area, placing a dumpster nearby avoids trash build up.

  1. Prohibit free distribution of the Sunday edition of the newspaper at the air show. (Schultz)

Free copies of the Sunday paper create enormous trash and FOD problems. If you must distribute newspapers, hand them out as your crowd leaves at the end of the day.

  1. Put sound at the back side of your ramp (O’Neill)

If you’ve got a deep ramp, be sure you have a system able to project sound all the way to the back. You can get more coverage for those audio “blind areas” by consulting with the sound professional you hired for your show or by placing wireless speakers at the back of the crowd.

  1. File your DoD Form 2535 with all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. (Gibson)

Deadlines and procedures for filing DD Form 2535 requesting support from the U.S. military vary from service to service. To increase your chances of getting support, file with all of the services and be sure to pay attention to the different dates and procedures for each.

  1. Position lost and found area in your kids area for both lost items and lost children. (Martin)

This area should be centrally located on the flight line and visible and accessible from anywhere at the show. Consider using banners or large, low hanging helium balloons to identify the location of your lost and found area.

  1. Single service drink vendors and mobile food carts should be placed closer to crowd and statics. (Shortt)

Small carts and 10’ x 10’ beverage tents are a great source of additional concession sales. Position them strategically to fill holes, take advantage of opportunities, and provide added convenience to customers.

  1. Consider adding a stage in a central point on your ramp. (Reynolds)

A stage can serve as a focal point on any air show ramp and is a great place for announcements throughout the day. You can also schedule other programming for the stage. Bands, DJs or other performers keep people engaged during non-show hours.

  1. Give your military recruiters preferred placement. (Schultz)

If your show includes military aircraft, consider returning the favor by giving recruiters premium placement on your ramp. Ask them to bring in vehicles, exhibits, tents and other display items to attract crowds. Remember that recruiting is the focal point of military support for your show. When you treat them well and help with that mission, you help justify their support of your show.

  1. Juxtapose big and small. (O’Neill)

If your air show has large aircraft (747, C-5) on static display, juxtapose it with something that really shows its size off.  It doesn’t have to be a C-5 and a single-seater, just be creative in how you present your static displays with the resources that you know can attend your show.

  1. Make reliable arrangements for care and feeding of the static crews. (Gibson)

From welcoming parties to pilot briefings to maps of the local area and reasonable hotel arrangements, take good care of your static aircrews. Have cars and room keys ready. Arrange for food and water to be delivered to their aircraft during show hours. Make sure they get lunch and are invited to post-show social events.

  1. Invite DMAT team to use your show as a drill/exercise. (Martin)

Disaster Medical Assistance Teams are federally-funded emergency response medical teams trained to handle large scale medical emergencies. There are 80 teams located throughout the U.S. and they are obligated to conduct exercises periodically. Your show might qualify as an acceptable exercise site.

  1. Never place toilets in front of a food line. (Shortt)

They need to be close enough for convenience, but far enough for sanitary and odor reasons. Moreover, most public health departments require portable toilets are at least 300 feet from a food court.

  1. Provide strong directional signage to help your customers navigate the ramp. (Reynolds)

Everything should be clearly labeled and visible to your attendees. To make sure, assign a volunteer to walk the ramp from the perspective of a customer: Where do I buy tickets? How do I get in? Who can I ask for help? Where’s the closest food? I’m injured or sick; where can I get help? Where are the toilets?

  1. Use signage to designate critical areas on your ramp. (Schultz)

First aid, lost and found, bus pick-up and drop-off, VIP location, beer tent, concessionaires, and smoking areas should be clearly marked. Also, consider having a Spanish speaking announcer or translator at show control for any bilingual issues.

  1. Put static aircraft in context by creating an historic timeline. (O’Neill)

Tell a visual story by placing aircraft in a specific context. Example: put trainers and fighters next to each other to explain the journey a fighter pilot trainee would have had to progress through before he got into combat. Or put a P-51 next to an F-22, a Corsair next to an F-18, and a B-17 next to a B-1 to explain the evolution of military aircraft.

  1. Create and prominently display maps of your ramp. (Gibson)

Maps are invaluable for locating the sites for concession stands, porta-potties, vendor locations and any commercial displays. Include silhouettes of static aircraft and identify them by name on the map.

  1. Put separate and upgraded portable toilets in the VIP chalet area. (Martin)

To service the chalet area, rent high-end portable toilets. Your customers and their guests will appreciate this special touch and see it, in part, as justification for the money they spend on the chalet.

  1. Concession stands need to be close to the crowd line to encourage sales and far enough away to not crowd out spectator areas. (Shortt)

Getting the balance right is a challenge. It impacts not just concession sales, but customer satisfaction with their overall air show experience.

  1. Develop “day at a glance” signs and display them prominently. (Reynolds)

Placed in high traffic areas, these signs allow attendees to be well informed on the day’s activities and schedule. These signs can include a map of the venue, schedule of activities, and common FAQs.

  1. Pay close attention to where you place your sound system speakers. (Schultz)

Place the speakers as high as safely possible so sound can be heard in the back of your ramp. Make certain that you don’t place the speakers in a ditch or lower than the front line of your crowd fencing as the sound will not project well.

  1. Organize and conduct an information scavenger hunt for kids. (O’Neill)

Have two different sets of ten questions each that the children have to answer by visiting static aircraft and talking to the crews to get the answer. The children submit the answers to the questions to get a small prize just for entering. At the end of the day, a single grand prize winner is pulled from the entrants.

  1. Contact PIC for each static aircraft 5-10 days before event to confirm relevant details. (Gibson)

For Friday arrivals, the aircraft must not arrive when the airspace is closed for the rehearsal show.  Unusual parking, re-fueling, lodging, and media interviews can be discussed. And details regarding departures can also be coordinated.

  1. Build an area for and position media area on your crowd line. (Martin)

It gives them a controlled area where they can set up their equipment and get unobstructed camera angles. That, in turn, helps to ensure that the show gets quality news coverage.

  1. Concessions vendors should be integrated into air show-wide communications. (Shortt)

Involving concessions companies in all communications right from the start avoids misunderstandings and unnecessary problems. Concessions representatives should be included in all pre-show communications as well as the appropriate radio networks during the show.

  1. Help make your sponsors visible and involved on the ramp. (Reynolds)

Many sponsors have assets that they’ll bring out to events to engage with attendees if you ask. Plus, it will contribute to the experience of your spectators and add value to the sponsorship at no cost to you.

  1. Provide preferred placement to sponsors. (Schultz)

If your sponsors have sampling or informational tents in the static area, give them preferred placement. In some cases, preferred location might help finalize a deal or generate a higher fee.

  1. Organize a law enforcement display. (O’Neill)

Helicopters and fixed wing aircraft are important parts of many police departments and many have specialized uses. Consider including some of the vehicles and equipment in an interesting display on your ramp.

  1. Generate an emergency contact list for every static display aircraft and demo team. (Gibson)

Include PIC pilots’ names, cell numbers, lodging locations and vehicle types. We never know when an emergency might arise which might affect one of our guest’s aircraft. Give the list to the FBO, show emergency coordinator, military liaison, show director and airport director. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

  1. Build a “cold” box that becomes a “hot” box. (Martin)

Static aircraft that double as performing aircraft can be positioned on the edge of the crowd line so they can be viewed as static aircraft during the early stages of your show. Then, when it’s time to crank engines, the area is sterilized and a physical barrier (fence, rope line) is set up to keep spectators clear of turning props.

  1. Food courts do not “draw” patrons to a certain area. (Shortt)

Never place a food line somewhere in hopes of drawing traffic to that area. It doesn’t work.

  1. Know your audience. (Reynolds)

A family area is great for parents looking to keep their kids occupied. A small playground, petting zoo, inflatable slide or carnival rides can be affordable to rent and generate revenue if a fee is charged. But they can also be a waste of money, space and effort if they don’t fit your demographics.

  1. Ask larger static display aircraft to arrive on Thursday. (Schultz)

This will allow you to position smaller static display around the already positioned large aircraft. It’s also much easier to move them into the ramp under their own power instead of towing them.  But don’t forget the budget implications for additional days/nights for rental cars and sleeping rooms.

  1. Showcase agricultural aircraft. (O’Neil)

Agricultural aircraft and farm equipment can be an interesting display. Crop dusting aircraft, ground tractors, cultivators and harvesters can be brought together in a display that tells the story of aerial agriculture.

  1. Plan for the unexpected. (Gibson)

Often a situation develops where one of your static aircraft must depart from your show unexpectedly. As the aircraft arrive and are parked initially, think about “How can we get this aircraft out of here if we have to?” And what will you do if an airplane that requires extensive security breaks and is forced to stay at your airport longer than first anticipated?

  1. Think of your parking area as part of your ramp. (Martin)

Getting cars in and out of your parking area and getting drivers and passengers from the parking area to the ramp and then back to the parking area are significant challenges for every show and should be reflected in how you organize your ramp, including shuttle bus stops, entrances/exits, magnetometers/inspection stations, cooler/backpack prohibitions, and vehicle/pedestrian interaction.

  1. Tell your concessionaires where all of your entry points are. (Shortt)

Entry points of the show have a direct correlation with efficiently servicing patrons, which results in higher concession sales. If there is a short walk from the gate, a food line directly at the entrance would not do well. Similarly, a small change in the location of an exit or shuttle bus stop could dramatically impact concessions.

  1. Consider providing lawn games for spectators. (Reynolds)

Another way to engage and entertain your fans is to add lawn games such as bocce ball or horseshoes. They’re affordable, easy to set up, and require little attention throughout the day. Plus, they’re great for all ages.

  1. Be mindful of aircraft weight limitations. (Schultz)

Ramps, taxiways, and runways are limited by what is known as “weight bearing capacity” which are determined by engineering studies that should be available from the airport manager. Weight limitations could impact which aircraft you invite to your show and/or where you park them when they arrive.

  1. Shine a spotlight on your firefighting heroes. (O’Neill)

Firefighting aircraft and helicopters mixed with different types of firefighting equipment make a unique and crowd-pleasing display. Aerial firefighting aircraft are unique and most of the general public never has a chance to get up close to them. Water buckets, scoopers and slurry aircraft, along with helicopters and the methods they use to bring quick response to a fire is an amazing story that can be told on your ramp.

  1. Recognize that our military is over-worked and frequently deployed. (Gibson)

As you advocate for military participation in your event, remember that the current operations tempo of our military often requires that these men and women be away from their families for extended periods of time. As you fill out your ramp, consider potential non-military participants: NASA, air cargo companies, commercial airlines, agricultural aviation, and business aircraft, as examples.

  1. Be prepared for parking/positioning static display aircraft. (Martin)

Don’t be surprised by issues that are predictable. Towing equipment, sleeping room and rental car requirements, aircraft separation regulations, ramp weight limitations, arrival/departure considerations, health concerns, and fueling requirements should be factored into your planning and budget.

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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.