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All eyes on Al Ain skies

By Adrian Murphy


Organisers of Al Ain International Aerobatics Show are planning to double the capacity of the 10,000-seater grandstand for next year’s show to cope with demand for tickets.

This year’s four-day aerobatics show, which began on January 24, saw a full house each day, with a total of more than 100,000 attending what is referred to as the UAE’s premier aeronautical event. More than $100,000 (Dh367,000) in prize money was awarded to pilots competing in the displays.


Colonel Mohammed bin Barrak Al Dhaheri, general co-ordinator of the event, said the show was growing in stature each year and plans were now under way to increase the crowd capacity. He said proposals had been submitted to the authorities to double the size of the grandstand. “And we have International Aeronautical Federation backing to make this an international event and this means we attract the best pilots from around the world as they receive a FAI certificate when they compete,” he said. “This year people were queuing at 8am to get in, even though the gates do not open until 11am, so this makes me feel very proud.”


Al Ain International Aerobatics Show 2008 was the fifth in succession and is now considered to be the curtain-raiser to the international airshow calander. International events will now take place in Singapore, New Zealand and Florida in February and March.


As well as attracting families and tourists, the show also pulls interest from air show enthusiasts and experts from around the world. “We have had spectators travelling from Africa, South America, United States, Europe and Asia,” said Al Dhaheri.


The show is also big business with Adnoc Distribution and Etihad Airways as platinum sponsors. Gold sponsors including etisalat, Pilatus Aircraft Limited, Abu Dhabi National Hotels, Al Ain Mineral Water and Abu Dhabi Airports Company.


Pilots from Sweden, the United States, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Romania, Austria, Jordan, Hungary, and Turkey took part in the four-day show, with more than 110 aircraft on display. Colonel Abdullah Al Amimi, head of the flying control committee, which is in charge of the safety and rules for the show, said the event had gained worldwide praise in its short history.

“This year has seen more interest from the United States and this is what we need more exposure on the international scene,” he said. “All our competitions, for the first time, were affiliated to the FAI guidelines and we have many pilots congratulating us on the overall organisation of the show. The weather was different from last year and the first two days were cold and overcast and then it warmed up and the last day was windy but fortunately none of the shows had to be stopped.”


One of the highlights of the show was the UAE Skydiving Team jumping from a plane and landing on the runway in front of the spectators. One skydiver descended from the skies holding a huge UAE national flag and landed precisely on a small area of land marked out for the skydivers.


Al Ain International Aerobatics Championship was held with the support and backing of General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.


As the championship entered its final day on Saturday, all eyes were on the world’s top two stunt pilots – Spain’s Ramon Alonso and Russia’s female competitor and last year’s first female winner Svetlana Kapanina – as they battled it out for the Dh367,000 prize money. Stunt pilot Charles P Aaron also stunned spectators by doing rolls, back flips and loop the loops. Aaron, popularly known as Chuck, is the only pilot licenced by the US Federal Aviation Administration to perform aerobatics in a helicopter.


But it was Spanish pilot Ramon Alonso, the current Aerobatics World Champion, who took first prize clocking up a score of 103.26 points. Svetlana Kapanina, his main rival, posted a best tally of 94.6 points.


The show was jointly organised by Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) and the UAE Air Force and Air Defence with the cooperation of the World Air Sport Federation. Organisers are now preparing for the sixth show in 2009.



The numbers


5: The number of editions of the Al Ain International Aerobatics Show

110: The total number of aircraft  that took part

XI: The show saw the world’s oldest plane the Bleriot XI take to the skies

$100,000:  The prize money up for grabs

4: More than 100,000 spectators visited the show over four days