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Air Show, Short on Cash, Still Expected to Get Off the Ground

January 05, 1988|STUART HENIGSON

Air/Space America organizers, forced to scale back their proposed air show for lack of money, insist they will get the 10-day exposition at Brown Field on Otay Mesa off the ground this May.

Bill Walsh, a retired rear admiral who is president of the group, said the $800,000 collected so far--though far short of the $9 million first budgeted for the first show--is enough to make the initial payments to put on the trade show in 1988.

"We certainly need more money," Walsh said, "but we can pull off the show right now."

Despite the assurances, some observers remain skeptical that air show promoters Walsh and former U.S. Rep. Bob Wilson, the event's founder and chairman, can launch the event without significantly more cash in hand to finance the huge initial costs of the inaugural event. After three years, the pair is still far short of fund-raising goals.

Patterned After Paris Show

Walsh and Wilson say they are patterning the San Diego show after the Paris Air Show, the premier international aerospace exhibition, held in odd-numbered years.

The heart of the San Diego show will be a business-only trade exhibit for aviation and aerospace products during the week of May 16. During the weekends at the beginning and end of the trade show week, the public will be offered a chance to tour the hardware and watch aviation-related events.

Show organizers estimate that it will cost between $4 million and $5 million to stage the show--down from $9 million projected in earlier plans--and that they have estimated $6 million in income.

They hope to attract up to 500 exhibitors, paying a total of $2.7 million in rental fees for exhibit space, and at least 160,000 spectators on the weekends, who would contribute another $1.4 million in admissions. The balance of the $6 million is to come from food and beverage sales, corporate sponsorships and contributions from the aerospace industry.

Air/Space America promoters have tried to capitalize on San Diego's Pacific Rim location by making a special effort to attract exhibitors and buyers from the Far East. A marketing team already has toured Japan and Korea, and a team to be headed by former astronaut Wally Schirra, a member of Air/Space America's advisory council, will meet with exhibitors at the Singapore air show later this month to try to build interest in the San Diego show.

Perhaps the strongest support for the show so far has come from the Santa Clara-based American Electronics Assn., which has among its membership many smaller firms that cannot justify the cost of taking their wares to Europe.

"With Air/Space America right here in our own back yard, we have the advantage of language, availability of technical staff and facilities for tours at probably one-half the cost,' explained Chuck Jungi, the AEA's coordinator for the air show.

About 75 AEA members have agreed to exhibit at the air show, comprising one-third of the exhibitors that have signed up so far. Jungi said the AEA has marketed the show among its members for Air/Space America on a commission basis.

"We spent money up front to make the marketing plan work, but by the end of the show, we should get reimbursed," Jungi explained.

The organizers had hoped to raise $3.5 million in industry contributions, to provide the financial base to launch the first show. But contributions so far have totaled only $800,000, including five contributions of $100,000 each from major firms and 12 contributions of $25,000 each from smaller firms and individuals.

Scaled Back

With the finances of the show balanced so precariously, Air/Space America organizers have scaled back, forgoing such planned improvements as permanent exhibit halls and landscaping at the barren, 130-acre site at Brown Field that is being rented from San Diego.

After organizers asked for help, the city agreed to reduce the property rent--to $100,000, from an original estimate of $400,000--and waive $17,000 in initial fees and bonds.

However, the City Council declined to put up $300,000 to subsidize the event, and a plan fell through to help finance the show with city-issued, tax-free industrial development bonds because Air/Space America was unable to get the necessary credit, said Walsh, which would guarantee the city that the bonds would be paid.

Inevitably, the San Diego show will be compared to the Paris Air Show, which attracted more than 1,000 exhibitors and about 800,000 viewers in 1987.

So far, Air/Space America has not been overwhelmed with enthusiasm from the U.S. aerospace industry. About 150 firms have paid deposits for exhibits, creating a revenue of $1.2 million, and another 75 have reserved space. Booth rentals start at $2,200 and range up to $22,000 for a "chalet."

Organizers say that if the San Diego show attracts 500 exhibitors the first year, the event will be able to match the Paris show in size, if not in prestige, within several years.

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