SKY GRAND PRIX WINGS IT IN DURBAN
Although the Durban Airshow that was usually held at Virginia Airport is conspicuous by its absence for the second year in a row, it seems that the die hards in the aviation sector are not giving up on Durban just yet.
The Sky Grand Prix of Aerobatics will take to the skies on May 28. According to the organisers, around 10 000 Durbanites are expected to turn up for a spectacular show at the Greyville Race Course. With tickets at R220 per adult, that should bring in a sizeable sum.
However, it will take place in tandem with one of the lead up races to the Durban July rather than as a standalone event suggesting that it is also a means for Gold Circle to widen its reach beyond exclusive horse racing circles. “This event is unique – and unlike other aviation events, it’s not happening at an airport but in the skies above Greyville Race Course and the Royal Durban Golf Course,” the organisers Roger Deare and Nigel Hopkins said in a statement.
The Sky Grand Prix of Aerobatics is a competition and will see 10 experienced aerobatic pilots competing against each other. These “Gladiators of the Sky” will perform breath-taking manoeuvres using 25 meter pylons as markers. These pylons will be placed strategically on the Royal Durban Golf Course, and the pilots’ technical manoeuvres will be analysed by a panel of judges who will pick out a champion.
Five of the contestants are South Africans. Gauteng-based Nigel Hopkins enthused: "As a local pilot, this is an incredible opportunity to compete with the world’s best in home skies with our own machines. Greyville provides an enthralling amphitheatre for spectators and a thrilling challenge for the pilots. It’s certainly a first for us as pilots and for South African aerobatics."
The locals will be joined by five of the best international aerobatics pilots – America’s Rob Holland who has numerous titles to his name and is the 2015 World Air games freestyle gold medallist and a five times US Champion, Poland’s Artur Kielak, Russian pilot, Mikhail Mamistov, the UK’s Gerald Cooper (UK) and the French Women’s Champion, Aude Lemortand, who also happens to be a Boeing 777 Pilot for Air France.
Having the Greyville Race Course as the central arena from which the spectators will have a prime view of the competition certainly shoots down one of the main reasons given for pulling the plug on the Virginia event – the potential harm that could come to neighbourhoods close to the controversial small Durban North airport. The organisers are quick to reassure that this event ticks all the safety boxes.
It is a Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), FAI Aerobatics Commission (CIVA) internationally sanctioned event. It is also approved locally by the Sport Acrobatic Club (SAC) and the Recreational Aviation Administration of South Africa. (RAASA). They are also confident that this event will become an annual one and will ultimately add to (or dare we say perhaps replace an event on) the overall Durban calendar, boosting tourism and potentially benefitting others in the sector.
The fact that this event is expected to return – and even grow – flies in the face of suggestions that air shows are a dying breed internationally. This was another reason given for grounding the Durban Air Show which, after 57 years, was the second longest running civilian air show in the world.
In addition to the stalwart Rand Air Show, it seems that spectators are still happy to shell out for high flying entertainment everywhere from Bethlehem to Vereeniging, from Newcastle to Middleburg – not to mention international centres such as Paris, Dubai and Singapore. A resolution to the on-going controversy surrounding the prime real estate that is Virginia Airport is probably the only way that we will again get to show off in the skies above one of the most beautiful sea frontages in the country.