Privateers land Wings Over Illawarra gig

The Douglas C-47 Dakota flies between Albion Park Rail and Clifton for last year's show.
The Douglas C-47 Dakota flies between Albion Park Rail and Clifton for last year's show.

The Wings Over Illawarra air show will be run by a private company after Shellharbour City Council moved to limit its costs from the annual event.

This May's air show will be run by Bright Events Pty Ltd, owned by aviation enthusiasts, and members of the Wings organising committee, Mark and Kerry Bright.

The Brights took a detailed proposal to Shellharbour council general manager Michael Willis late last year. After he endorsed their plan, it was then approved by the Wings organising committee.

Mr Bright is enthusiastic about the air show, telling the Mercury he hopes to double attendance figures within two years. Almost 15,000 attended last year.

He said a commercial operator could devote more time to publicity and organisation.

"We've been on the committee for the last three years," he said.

"We understand what it takes to put this thing on, what's involved.

"We're looking at it from a commercial point of view as to how we can take it to the next level."

Wings over Illawarra has returned a surplus of almost $100,000 in recent years, about 60 per cent of which has gone to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society. Other money went to the council and charities.

It will be up to Bright Events to distribute any surplus this year.

Most Shellharbour councillors found out about the change late last year in a council newsletter, as the matter did not go to a meeting for a decision.

Mr Bright said he was surprised the show did not go to tender but his company was best placed to take over.

"A lot of it was to do with the timeframe," he said.

"When we first went to council we did expect them to turn around and say listen, it's got to go to tender.

"It was our enthusiasm for running the event that [impressed] council."

Mr and Mrs Bright operated the Aviator Lounge restaurant at the airport for eight years until it was destroyed by fire in May last year.

Mr Willis said last year he decided the groups organising the event needed to take more financial responsibility for it, so the council could reduce its funding.

He said that with little time to organise the next show, Bright Events was the best option.

"Either I gave my endorsement to the proposal - it was clear that they were taking the responsibility and the commercial risk, and the legal risk, that went with it - or there was a good prospect the event wouldn't proceed at all.

"In my view I think the public interest was well served by the event being managed in the way that it is."

Last year the council spent about $35,000 on the event, of which $24,000 was reimbursed, with cost to ratepayers of $11,000.

Shellharbour councillor Peter Moran said now the air show would be run on a commercial basis, the council should charge full commercial rates for use of its resources - including the airport.

Mr Willis said costs would be reduced but Bright Events would not be charged for the airport.

"Under this [new] arrangement, I'm expecting that we'll get our direct costs reimbursed, and there will be less indirect costs on our part as well.

"So in my view, everyone in this is benefiting."


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