AirFest grounded for 2014 and likely beyond
JANESVILLE—Southern Wisconsin AirFest will not return this summer, and an event organizer said Tuesday it's unlikely the show will ever return to Rock County.
“You can never say never, but I'd say it's not likely,” said Tom Morgan, the executive director of the event that started in 2002.
Organizers put the annual air show on hiatus last year because it didn't have a major performer or significant corporate sponsor to boost what had become a worsening bottom line.
At the time, they said the decision was based on a lack of corporate support for the event and no commitments from either the Air Force Thunderbirds or the Navy Blue Angels.
Both of those teams performed at previous shows that did well financially.
Organizers said last year they would work toward the possibility of a 2014 show with better corporate support and a commitment from one of the two teams.
For years, the Beloit-based ABC Supply Co. has been the event's major sponsor.
The 2014 schedules for both military jet teams are set, and Janesville is on neither. The Thunderbirds will fly at the Rockford AirFest in June, two weekends after the traditional Janesville show on Memorial Day weekend.
“If we could get a U.S. jet team, ABC Supply said it would happily be back as a sponsor,” said Morgan, who has directed the show for several years without being paid.
“Without a U.S. jet team, it just doesn't make financial sense.”
The show was an annual fundraiser to support the Wisconsin Aviation Academy, a nonprofit organization founded in 2001 to help at-risk students improve their educational skills and achievement through aviation-based activities.
In years when the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels performed, the show was able to make significant contributions to the academy that Morgan founded. In down years, there were no contributions, he said.
He said the academy will likely close.
Through the years, AirFest was able to donate more than $400,000 to the academy.
Still, AirFest experienced a bumpy financial ride.
Since 2004, the show's revenues exceeded expenses in five out of nine years, according to tax records filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
In an interview last year, Morgan and other organizers laid out the necessities for the show's return: a commitment from a major U.S. jet team, a different weekend date and considerably more community support to help pay for an annual event that had established a recent pattern of losing money.
Organizers said at the time that they remained committed to an air show that benefits the aviation academy, entertains attendees and contributes to the economic well being of Rock County.
Morgan said Tuesday the show still has its paperwork filed with the Pentagon, which schedules both the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels.
“If they ever decide they want to come back to Janesville, we could take a look at it, but unless Scott Walker and Paul Ryan are the president and vice president or there's a four-start general from Janesville at the Pentagon, I'm not sure that's going to happen,” he said.
“We ran a great event for several years, but with the things the way they are, it just doesn't make financial sense.”