All eyes to the skies
When the first air races were held in 1909 in France, the pioneers could hardly have imagined the 100th anniversary of the event would be first celebrated in the UAE's 'Garden City' – Al Ain.
The four-day Al Ain Aerobatics Show, which begins this Wednesday, marks the start of the air show calendar in this centenary celebration.
In a mere six years since its debut, the air show has progressed into one of the top events of its kind in the world, under the guidance of organisers, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA).
"The air show is one of the foremost in the world and is key to bringing excellent coverage to Abu Dhabi and Al Ain," ADTA's Events Management Section Head, Faisal Al Sheikh, tells Emirates Business.
He adds: "The event attracts around 130,000 spectators over four days and is definitely one of the top 10 aerobatics shows worldwide. This is mainly because over the five years, we have enhanced the programming content.
"Not only do we now attract world-class pilots, but unlike in the past when we approached them, they now contact us."
Al Sheikh explains that each year surprises are planned for the spectators and all the competitions are held from the first to the last day so no one [regardless of which day they attend] misses the action.
For 2009, the ADTA will host a number of events for the first time in the Middle East. The highlight is the multi-discipline aerial racing series, the Aero GP – often referred to as the 'Formula One' of air racing.
Aero GP, which comprises three-disciplines, is the only air-race series to feature six planes racing at the same time. Pilots also have to do a one-on-one aggressive dogfight and precision aiming 'barnstorming' manoeuvres.
Al Sheikh, who's been planning this event for the past six months with the ADTA, says: "We're bringing the world-class F1 sky race Aero GP. It's an amazing spectacle where pilots fly at an altitude of 20-feet, at speeds of 500 kilometres per hour.
"We have teams participating from all over the world; there will be formation flying from planes, helicopters, wingwalkers, gliders and aircrafts from the past. Many of the activities will be making regional debuts."
Another spectacle to thrill the crowd is 'Hager's Raiders', choreographed especially for the Al Ain show by Hollywood movie stuntman, Mark Hager.
The American is a veteran of some 700 car stunts, recently seen in movies such as The Dukes of Hazzards and The Punisher.
And, if your neck gets too sore from gazing into the sky, the air show also offers other fun activities, including mini go-karting, paint-balling, an Etihad Simulation zone and a play area.
"The show will be televised locally by Abu Dhabi TV," says Al Sheikh.
"Spectators at the event can make use of the sky cameras, which will make them feel part of the action."
When all is done and dusted come Saturday, the ADTA will immediately turn their attention to next year's show.
"We always plan for next year. We continue to develop our product to grow from strength to strength," says Al Sheikh, adding: "Last year, we conducted a survey with an 83 per cent satisfaction from our customers.
"Their suggestions are always welcome to help improve our show, allowing us to become a model event for others to follow."
- Daily tickets for the show, which runs at the Al Ain International Airport every afternoon from January 28 until 31, are priced at Dh40 (adult) and Dh25 (children between three and 10 years).
Children under three enter free. Log on to www.timeoutabudhabi.com or call: 800 44 444
- Students from government-run universities enter free on Wednesday, upon presenting a valid student ID.
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