Thu, July 18

Cottonwood Airplane, Auto and Cycle Show canceled
Concerns of safety and property damage cited

When Wayne "Butch" Hunt assisted in establishing the first Airplane, Auto and Cycle Show 19 years ago, he told himself he would help coordinate the event for 20 years.

That personal commitment of 20 years will now be stopped short.

Less than 30 days before the event, the 19th annual Airplane, Auto and Cycle Show at the Cottonwood Municipal Airport has been canceled, citing concerns for safety, property damage and security.

The gates will not open at 8 a.m. on May 12. There will be no fly-in pancake breakfast, raffle or entry fees carrying proceeds that were to benefit the local chapter of the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Squadron 212. Butch is currently returning sponsors' checks and giving back door prizes. He is canceling the creation of special plaques and awards to be made by local businesses.

"There's a small bunch of people that just don't want us up there," Butch said. "There's a new breed in town and this is not the way they did it where they came from. Some of the new guys have come in with their new planes and they just don't want us up there."

A meeting was called with interested parties including Chamber of Commerce Assistant Director Donna Schmidt (the chamber annually sponsors the event), Cottonwood Public Works Director Tim Costello (who oversees airport management), a representative from the Cottonwood Airport Users Association, Butch and other event committee organizers.

Schmidt said airport officials determined the original location of the event "was too dangerous" and there were concerns for possible damage to the planes and attendees.

Costello said an alternative location -- just west of the of the airport property, away from the airfield on a newly constructed road connected to an industrial complex currently under construction -- was offered to Butch and other committee members.

Butch said he had wired everything for the original location -- "I made everything fit," he said. "Now, I cannot redo everything and make it work in 30 days. It would just be impossible."

Butch told the chamber the alternative location would not work and the plug was pulled on the Airplane, Auto and Cycle Show. Costello said there was not an ultimatum given. Butch said it was his understanding that the chamber and others involved deemed the original location too dangerous and "we couldn't have it there."

"I'm really sorry that they are not going to have their show," Airport Users Association President Al Gradijan said. "But, we offered them some reasonable adjustment."

Safety and security

"The [Transportation Security Administration] is now the tail that wags the dog," Gradijan said. "Since 9/11, aviation has changed. All airports are subject to new security rules that they weren't facing before. What we are trying to do is be diligent about who gets into the airport."

Schmidt and Chamber President Margie Beach said TSA and Homeland Security issues were raised at the meeting.

"They emphasized 9/11 and how they just put up a security gate," Schmidt said.

Al Comello, who handles public relations for the Sedona Airport and helps coordinate a car and airplane show there, said. "Safety is a big issue, but using Homeland Security concerns [as a reason to stop the show] might be fishing."

TSA Spokesman Nico Melendez said he is unaware of the TSA having a green or red light for anything like the airplane and auto show.

"That is something we would have nothing to do with," he said.

Costello said general safety concerns at the airport are real.

He said closing the airfield is a "big deal," and therefore it is not closed for the event.

"So," he said, "you have to be concerned with aircraft maneuvering around the crowd S I have seen aircraft come by and part the crowd, without incident, but the possibility of an accident is there."

Costello added that airport activity and the number of aircraft based at the airport have doubled in five years and this is a notable reason for heightened safety concerns.

"In the early history of the auto and airplane show, we had a pretty sleepy airport, now [activity] has increased pretty significantly."

Possible damage to aircraft

Gradijan said he has heard comments from aircraft owners who have seen children playing on or around the wings of certain planes.

"These people pay for a spot" to base their aircraft at the airport, Gradijan said.

He said people have had to move their aircraft during the event because they didn't want the public around them.

"Planes are much more fragile than cars," he said. "Personally, there's no way my plane would be out there during that auto show."

Costello said there has not been any "terribly significant" problems with the show. He said there have been "very minor incidents," such as children possibly smearing cotton candy on a part of a plane.

Future of the show

Organizers were not thrilled with the alternate location for the show. Whether the show continues in future years depends greatly on the organizers agreeing to an alternative venue that will accommodate.

Gradijan believes having it at the airport is not critical because recently the Cottonwood Airplane, Auto and Cycle show has turned into an auto show.

Gradijan said "no planes have been at this car show for years."

However, planes were present at last year's event and there were four classes of airplanes slated for entrant judging at this year's event -- including antique, scratch built, kit built and ultralight.

Costello said the presence of airplanes at the show has drastically diminished.

"We are tossing around ideas for next year," Schmidt said. "This has forced us to look at different options. It was a great attraction for the community and I think the chamber will make an effort to make it work next year."

Butch hopes this to be the case. He still has at least two more years left in his commitment to organizing the event. Over the years, he has used some of his own money to keep it going.

"Maybe we can go somewhere else next year where we are wanted," he said.