What are the impacts of the International Air Show coming in August?

The control tower and a plane hangar at Barnes. (Image Courtesy: The Westfield News)

WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – While complaints about traffic and parking may come with the International Air Show coming to the city in a few months, officials argue that the economic impacts will benefit the community.

The International Air Show is expected to bring many visitors to the city during its operation Aug. 12 and 13, which will help to improve spending within the city, according to officials. However, in addition to the visitors, Lt. Col. Eric Armentrout, director of operations at the 131st Fighter Squadron on Barnes Air Reserve Base and air show director, said that the impact will be seen from the spending that the many people who put on the show do in the community.

“It’s not just the people visiting the show day of, that’s a small part of it, but hotel rooms, rental cars and all the other business we do to produce the show in the area,” Armentrout said.

According to Armentrout, studies have shown that the economic impact within the communities that host events like the International Air Show can be significant. These studies have included ones done by Dr. Rod Warnick, professor of hospitality and tourism management at the UMass Isenberg School of Management. Warnick’s studies have included impact studies based on the International Air Show in Westfield and the Great American Air Show in Chicopee.

According to one of Warnick’s most recent studies, “2015 Great American Air Show Impact Study,” he and others estimated that the economic impact of the air show to Chicopee and the surrounding communities to be $11.6 million, with “direct and induced sales multiplier impact overall” of $14.9 million. Of that, $9.3 million was estimated to come from non-local expenditure.

Of course, Warnick cautioned that these are estimates and should be treated as such.

“It’s an educated guess as best,” Warnick said. “We look at it as a range of spending.”

According to Warnick, the 2015 study would be the closest in terms of what people could expect in terms of impact from this year’s International Air Show.

“Spending is up, they’re spending more locally now that gas is not so high,” he said, comparing the 2015 study to previous years’ studies. “They’re diverting some of that money to food on site and to other items that they would normally use just to travel to the show.”

In addition, Warnick said that the air show provides families with more entertainment based on the amount they spend.

“It’s a high-value event that, for the amount of money a family spends, they get six to seven hours of entertainment,” he said.

Other impacts, according to Armentrout, include the amount of lodging and other expenses staff, crews and entertainers spend within the community both at the event and leading up to it.

“The airshow itself is paying a lot of money for rental cars, hotel rooms, and also all the vendors and concessions are coming in and having to stay from Wednesday or Thursday through Monday,” Armentrout said.

Also, the Thunderbolt Council, which is the nonprofit that oversees the planning of the air show, requests a minimum of 15 percent local vendors during the show, Armentrout said. Then there are additional spending, such as fuel being purchased from Barnes Regional Airport for non-military flight vehicles, 200 portable toilet rentals, security and standby medical services that Armentrout said typically come from the nearby community.

“A lot of the behind-the-scenes structure and support,” he said.

Finally, Armentrout said that while the air show gets money to cover costs, whatever additional money received is distributed to local charities.

“We are basically making a pretty large donation to the airport, if you want to call it that, out of the proceeds of the show, which covers cost and gives a little benefit to their charities,” he said.

Armentrout said these charities may include the Greater Westfield Boys and Girls Club, who assists with childcare for Air Reserve Base personnel during their weeks of training on the base, as well as boy and girl scout troops and high school booster clubs that do volunteer work for the show.