The Popham based An-2 club display team recently announced that due to unforeseen financial difficulties, they would be taking a sabbatical during the 2013 display season. I went along to have a chat with the team and find out what problems they’ve encountered.
Antonov An-2 HA-MKF has been a regular sight on the UK display circuit for many years and has displayed at all the major events but due to lack of funding, the team is unable to get airborne this year. So what was needed to keep this display alive for 2013?
I spoke to Grahame Foskew to find out:
“£12,000 – this would have covered the aircraft insurance for the year. To give you an idea of the issues we’ve faced; we spoke to one particular airshow as soon as they said they were going to do their show. We approached them rather than waiting to be approached and quoted them just £2000 to go from here, to the show, display and come back. What many don’t realise is that we don’t do this for profit – its just the cost of fuel and insurance. They came back to us and said I’m very sorry, I can’t afford to have the An2.”
In today’s economic climate, £2000 for an air display doesn’t seem too bad but sadly it just wasn’t meant to be.
“The next week the team announced Miss Demeanour, the Vulcan plus the B-25 from Holland. For some reason we appear to be at the bottom of the pecking order. Later that week, the organisers went to an online forum where someone commented that the lineup wasn’t very good. They said ‘If you’d like to buy tickets in advance, with the funding we can book more aircraft. I am looking to book, amongst others, the An2’. Unfortunately it would seem that this wasn’t true because we never got that booking.”
If being used as a strategic pawn wasn’t enough, having to turn down displays must have been even worse.
“The finale for us last year was at Duxford with the RNHF Swordfish and Duxford based Dragon Rapide. The reviews and feedback we got from that performance was fantastic. You name it, everybody loved it. We thought, ok it’s going to be easy – we had a good season, a bad and another good. Shows such as Shoreham were all approaching us off the back of what we did at Duxford and we were quoting the minimal amounts to do these displays. They still turned around and said that they couldn’t afford it. One of our major selling points is that we’re always friendly and most of the time let people look around and climb all over the aircraft – even at the major shows like RIAT. There aren’t many display teams out there that let you do that are there? In return you can donate a £1 but even that isn’t compulsory. It is very frustrating for us.”
With 2013 supposedly being the last year that Avro Vulcan XH558 will be displaying, it will be interesting to see what aircraft come out of the woodwork over the next few years. With the rumoured cost of the Vulcan display running into five figures, that amount of money could surely pay for a larger, more diverse selection of displays… couldn’t it?
“We pride ourselves on having a fairly unique bit of kit – we are the only fully committed displaying An-2 in this country. If you think about other unique aircraft in this country, they all seem to easily get show bookings. We have four DA qualified pilots that can all do the job.”
So, just how difficult was it for the dedicated team to make the decision to sit this year out?
“We made the decision in late February and to be honest, it was heartbreaking. When we had three continuous knockbacks from quotes that had gone out, we knew it wasn’t going to be our year – all three knocked us back in the space of a week. We have had to turn down another show this week as well as two guaranteed PPL (Private Pilot Licence) training flights – we’re now running into a position where we stand to lose money.”
Fortunately though, it’s not all doom and gloom as there are several different revenue streams that the team are looking into.
“Ideally, for a full display season we need £15000 – that’s to cover insurance and overheads like parking. Although unlikely in today’s climate, a single sponsorship deal would be perfect but we are also looking into other things. At the moment we’re trying to get an AOC (Airline Operating Certificate) – this has been a stumbling block before as the aircraft is still on the Hungarian register. If we can get an AOC, we can charge people for pleasure flying which hasn’t been done before on an An-2. The authorities used to say that as it’s a Hungarian aircraft, it would need to be flown by Hungarian registered commercial pilots. If we can get a workaround in place that means our current British crews can get Hungarian licenses, then we can offer day trips to an airshow, for example. At the moment its only members of the An-2 club that can fly in her. CAA rules state that you cannot charge for flights unless you are a registered airline, so an AOC is essential. If we can charge something in the region of £40 a circuit per person, then we would instantly have a viable revenue stream.”
There is also the possibility that you might see something a little different from the An-2 club in the next 12 months or so. In her first year of display flying, Lauren Richardson is keen to get involved in a pairs routine.
“This is her first display season and we wish her all the best. If we can get a formation rate in place, then something may come of it. I can imagine the An-2 doing a ‘slowby’ (as we call it) down the crowd line with her Pitts Special rolling around the aircraft. It’s then a question of convincing the powers that be, that its a display worth seeing.”
There is also a possibility that you could see the world’s largest single engined biplane team up with others acts such as the Tiger Nine display team!
All in all, it’s going to be a tough year for the An-2 team but there is a lot of potential in their plans. Although the aircraft is unable to get airborne this year, you still have the unique opportunity to have a tour of the aircraft and see it on the ground at Popham having engine runs at several events throughout the year – to find out more please visit http://www.an2club.info and http://www.popham-airfield.co.uk/.
The An-2 display is great value for money and hopefully you’ll be able to see it back in the air in 2014. One thing is for sure though – the An-2 club are not going down without a fight!
Follow @An2Club on Twitter for the latest updates from the team.