The tragic accident at the recent Shoreham air show has sent the popular media into a frenzy, with some calling for restrictions on flying of vintage aircraft at these events, and some asking whether air shows should be banned altogether. This seems like a typical tabloid overreaction. So let's have a reasoned debate. The cause of this particular crash has yet to be determined. Was it pilot error, or did something go wrong with the aircraft? Should vintage aircraft be performing aerobatics at all? Well, the aircraft in question, the Hawker Hunter, was built as a high performance combat aircraft. Aerobatics are what it was designed to do. But it is 50 years old now. You wouldn't take a Jaguar E-type to a drag strip and thrash it, but there's no reason why you couldn't take it for a spirited drive in the country. It should be up to the engineers who take care of the aircraft (not tabloid journalists) to judge what is a safe flight envelope for the plane to perform in.
But do we really need air shows at all? I enjoy the spectacle of an air show as much as the next man; the skill of the pilots is quite amazing. However in today's environmentally-conscious world, can we afford to burn jet fuel for fun? And what about all the smoke given off by the Red Arrows and similar display teams? Why is it OK for aircraft to emit potentially carcinogenic VOCs into the atmosphere, when other industries, such as shipping, are penalised for smoke emissions? Is it time for such polluting events to be consigned to history? Or are they simply a great way to encourage young people into the engineering and aerospace industries?