Originally created 04/03/00

Officials declare Skyfest a success

After a rocky start Saturday with a larger than expected crowd causing huge traffic problems, Skyfest 2000 ended smoothly Sunday, with officials calling the weekend a success.

"The airport staff and volunteers have done a remarkable job," said airport consultant Rick Grissom. "They've done in 80 days what people can't get right in one year."

Gone were the long lines of traffic all around the airport that caused officials to turn away hundreds of people Saturday. By showtime Sunday, the roads were clear at Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field.

James and Denise Lott of Augusta left their home between 11 and 11:30 a.m. with their son, Timothy, and nephew, Darrell, and were inside the show by noon. A group leaving at a similar time Saturday would have had little chance of even attending the show.

"You can't ask for much better," Mrs. Lott said.

The final day's crowd was much smaller than the estimated 40,000-plus people on Saturday, which probably accounted for most of the reduction in traffic problems. But extra Richmond County Sheriff's Department deputies and a greater preparedness by officials and volunteers were at least part of the reason for Sunday's success.

"It's like a totally different airport," said Sgt. Greg Smith of the Richmond County Sheriff's Department. "We are definitely better equipped than (Saturday)."

Public safety officials met with Skyfest and airport officials Saturday night and made the necessary changes to make Sunday a completely different experience for attendees.

"I think our meeting (Saturday night) was good because we were able to get everybody on the same page," said David Dlugolenski, Richmond County Emergency Management Agency director.

The sheriff's department called in an extra 10 deputies to direct traffic off of Lock and Dam Road into the show's parking lot and spaces. On Saturday, directing people into parking spaces was a job performed almost entirely by volunteers.

The main gate opened on time Sunday, and attendees heeded the advice of officials and arrived earlier than Saturday's crowd did, Airport Director Al McDill said.

"(Volunteers) weren't as prepared as they should have been in the first 30 minutes (on Saturday)," he said. "We appraised the affect of it yesterday, and everybody responded to it today."

One problem created by Saturday and Sunday's air show traffic was that it hindered people from arriving on time for commercial flights out of Bush Field, Mr. McDill said. While he has not heard of anyone complaining about missing flights, Mr. McDill said he was certain he would hear about it today.

While final attendance and financial numbers were not available Sunday, Mr. McDill said Skyfest 2000 undoubtedly made money.

How the money made from the air show is spent will be at the discretion of the Augusta Aviation Commission, Mr. McDill said.

The commissioners put up $100,000 out of the airport's budget for the show.

"If you don't take any risks, you don't get any rewards, and the community certainly got a big reward this weekend," Augusta Mayor Bob Young said.

With officials excited with the results of Skyfest 2000, some were already talking about other shows in the future.

"It's obvious when you've seen the crowds we've had out here that people want this type of entertainment," Mr. Young said.

Many in the crowd said that, although they would like to see another Skyfest or similar show in Augusta, they hoped organizers learned from the problems this past weekend.

"It's family oriented and brings a lot to Augusta," Arthie Mann said. "They could have planned it a little better, but this again, this is Augusta's first air show."

Reach Mark Mathis at (706) 823-3227 or marmathis@yahoo.com.


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