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The over-simplified answer is that recent experience suggests that aerobatic competition experience does not translate particularly well to air show flying.

In the early and mid 1990s, several aerobatic competition pilots were killed flying at air shows. In each case, they were relatively inexperienced air show pilots. In some cases, they were very experienced aerobatic competitors. In other cases, they were not so experienced. Several other competition/air show pilots were killed flying their air show sequence during practice sessions.

No telling what the reasons are. Some have said that the crowds and the atmosphere and the excitement at air shows often have more effect on the pilot than that pilot had expected. Others have said that there's a big change going from an environment where going below a certain altitude means you've failed to an environment where the goal, at least for some, is to get as close the ground as possible without actually hitting it.  No one can say for sure. But it was clear to the people making the rules at the time that roughly equating aerobatic competition experience with air show flying experience was not producing the equivalent level of safety that everybody had assumed it would. The business had been presented with too many fatal examples of how this simply wasn't the case. So, allowances for aerobatic competition experience were eliminated from the rules.

At a more personal level, I can tell you that we see a good many problems each year and our single biggest problem is with aerobatic competitors who believe that their competition experience translates directly to air shows. They often take a "been there, done that" attitude with the evaluators. They are frequently not as familiar with the air show specific rules as a less talented or skilled aerobatic pilot who has not flown aerobatic competitions. I don't know if it's a lack of familiarity with the rules or difficulty in moving back and forth from one type of flying to another. But, like I said, it's our single biggest source of problems during evaluations, counseling during air shows, and questions here at ICAS.

Of course, none of this is true for the vast majority of aerobatic competition pilots trying to break into the air show business. In fact, of all the top air show performers in the U.S., virtually all of them got their start in competitive aerobatics. But there were also too many fatal accidents among aerobatic competitors trying to break into the air show business to ignore the fact that aerobatic competition experience was not translating into safe air show flying as well as all of us would have liked. New rules were instituted and the problem has been largely eliminated.

Clearly, it would be much, much more convenient to make some allowances for an aerobatic competitor's aerobatic experience. But, in the face of recent experience, the relative advantages will not outweigh the harsh, practical reality that such a policy puts people's lives at unnecessary risk.

I know that this message will generate a new blizzard of e-mail from people who are very sure that ICAS is wrong on this issue. And for any particular pilot, this may be true, but the rules under which we run the program must be oriented toward a lower common denominator. And, though it may sound harsh, those lower common denominators (and any of you who have been in the aerobatics arena for any length of time know several examples) have demonstrated that we cannot make the assumption that aerobatic competition experience translates well and safely to air show experience.

John Cudahy
International Council of Air Shows, Inc.

In a message dated 5/22/2002 5:32:48 PM Eastern Daylight Time, writes:

What I'd like to know is why can't ICAS have a program specifically
designed for IAC members to get a card with an appropriate set of
limitations that would accommodate the above (and possibly other
issues)?  I know I'd be willing to accept limitations as to number of shows
per year, fees charged (expenses only), altitudes and maneuvers appropriate
to the level of IAC competition I've been involved in, etc.  Maybe it could
be as simple as the applicant sends in the previous season's competition
records (along with fees, etc) and is issued an Aerobatic Competency card
with a corresponding set of limitations.  Maybe what I'm describing might
be called the "ICAS, Amateur Division".  Other motor sports such as auto
and motorcycle racing have such things.  Why not aerobatics?

© Dr. Günther Eichhorn
Email Guenther Eichhorn