The answering machine light was blinking; the retrieved message was a question from a show producer/client: “Do I need an Airboss for my show?”
Nothing like putting this old fart in the middle of an industry controversy. The short answer to this question is Yes, the long answer is Yes. Why then is this subject so controversial?
Maybe its starts with the term itself: In the early days of naval carrier operations, aircraft were totally alien to most senior “Officers of the Line.” The Captain of the USS Langley knew ship handling but not aircraft flying. A sensible division of authority evolved where the Captain ran the ship and an aviator was appointed “Airboss” to run the flight ops.
But, is the term and division of authority directly applicable to the airshow industry? I think not. I’m not talking semantics, I’m talking mindset; for at the airshow, the Airboss may be responsible for the flight ops, but in reality this person is a key player in how entertaining the event is for the spectators.
Every performer can relate a story of working with in inflexible Airboss whose insistence on some arbitrary schedule or procedure is actually detrimental to flight safety and has a negative impact on the show’s entertainment value.
As a narrator, my pet peeve is the Airboss that declares an “intermission” because the show is running ahead of HIS schedule. The show is moving along at a nice pace, each performance quickly following in sequence when, all of a sudden, all action stops while this bozo’s watch catches up with the action. In the radio business, this is called “dead air” and your listeners quickly tune in another station; at the airshow this is also “dead air” - the spectators lose interest, become bored and head for the parking lot.
I have even watched in disbelief as performers are required to observe full ATC procedures, to the point of filing, activating, and closing formal flight plans for their performance. An important enhancement to safety of flight? Not!
My point is simply this: an airshow Airboss is much more than an air traffic controller for the airshow. Yes, safety of flight, with all its considerations is important, in fact paramount, BUT the Airboss controls, not just the air, but the entire show. The pacing, the presentation, the show part of airshow is also in the hands of the Airboss.
The reality of this is that the Airboss is really the Airshow Director, just like the person in the control booth for a television newscast, the director staging a play or a movie. On the shoulders of the Airboss rests the responsibility to ensure a 1: SAFE and 2: ENTERTAINING event.
These are not mutually exclusive responsibilities, but its does takes a mindset and and some special experience to make the SAFE part TRANSPARENT to the spectators as they enjoy the ENTERTAINMENT.
The naval term “Airboss” only describes part of the job. Maybe we should call them “Directors,” maybe “Showboss,” but they are not Air Traffic Controllers, they are an integral part of the entertainment success of an airshow.
So, back to the original question: “Does my show need and Airboss?”
My real answer: No, your event needs a “Showboss!” Someone who not only can assure a safe event and perform all the duties of an Airboss but, one who realizes that your show is in the flight ops business AND the entertainment business. Someone who can integrate and balance the total responsibility of directing an aerial event and someone with the skills of an Air Traffic Controller combined with the showmanship of an entertainer.
Find’m and hire’m! Your performers will thank you and, more importantly, your paying spectators will appreciate the results.