Biggin Hill Air Fair nosedives into history books
A COMMUNITY left shocked by the cancellation of the world renowned Biggin Hill International Air Fair has expressed sadness at its final curtain call.
Millions have flocked from all over the world during its 48-year history, boosting the local economy of the borough and putting Bromley’s name on the map.
Jim Maitland, the son of its creator and world famous pilot Jock Maitland is just one of many who have spoken of their remorse at its closure, announced by members of Biggin Hill Airport Limited (BHAL) last Thursday afternoon.
Squadron Leader Jock Maitland, 86, took a lease from Bromley council for the airport in 1958, establishing the air show five years later under his company Air Displays International.
BHAL acquired the show in July from Air Displays International (ADI) which had run the show for nearly five decades.
At the time, airport owner Andrew Walters vowed the ‘show would go on’ but has now changed his mind.
The airport will instead take part in a London-wide architecture festival Open House in September 2011 where visitors can take tours around the historic airfield, famous for its formidable role in the Second World War.
Resident Graham Knight, of Widmore Road, Bromley, said: “I told my children and they were in tears. We got no warning last year that it would be the last one. We should have had a consultation, it’s totally wrong.”
Tony Lewis, who has lived in Biggin Hill for 22 years, said: “It’s a great loss to me personally — the air show is all ever known. I’ve spoken to a few people and nobody trusts the airport to put on as good a show as the Maitlands. How could they? They have no experience”
A spokesperson for the airport said there were a number of issues they now needed to take into consideration, including the financial risk in the future and if it would cause disruption to businesses based there as the airfield is closed for a large part of June.
It spells the end of the stomach-churning stunts and displays by the world’s best aerobatics teams, including the RAF’s Red Arrows, for which the show became known.
Former chief executive of ADI, Colin Hitchins, said: “It’s a sad day for me and for the people who enjoyed the show over the last 48 years. There is no going back now, the airport has made its decision but it is to the detriment of the people who loved it.”
Asked if he felt proud of what ADI had achieved, he said: “Absolutely. It was rated one of the top shows in the country by the aviation industry including the RAF who gave it 100 per cent support even when their resources were dwindling over the past four years.”
The airport was privatised in 1988 and in 1994 BHAL bought it and granted ADI a 25-year licence for the air fair.
But BHAL controversially terminated the licence three years early in July this year, making six people redundant.
The airport said the contract’s legality became questionable because Jock Maitland, to whom the licence was originally granted, was no longer involved.
MP for Orpington Jo Johnson said: “The air show, which I went to this summer, is a landmark community event and I hope very much that it can continue to thrill visitors in large numbers in the years ahead. It is a big tourism attraction for Bromley and one that provides tremendous showcase opportunities for local charities and small businesses. I sincerely hope the plans for an Open House day allow it to remain as vibrant and relevant to the community as it has always been.”
Biggin Hill residents association chairman David Haslam said: “It is sad. We would all have loved it to go on.
“The Civil Aviation Authority only wants to grant licences to whoever is in charge of an airport. That creates two issues — safety and money — which is what I suspect had led them to this decision. Who would bail it out if it didn’t make money?”
Ross Walters, assistant manager of the Old Jail pub, in Jail Lane, Biggin Hill, said: “Of course it’s a shame for the area. It’s been going since forever. A lot of pubs around here get a lot of custom from the show. They will be hit.”
Airport owner Andrew Walters said: “Jock Maitland, his son Jim and Colin Hitchins in more recent years, have promoted and presided over a magnificent air show for almost half a century. But now is time for change, putting the community first and giving us the opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to them.”