The History of the International Council of Air Shows
While it is true that the roots of the air show industry date back to the barnstormers of the 1920s and 30s, for all practical purposes, the birth of what we know as “modern air shows” occurred with the founding of ICAS. The spirit of cooperation among air shows and performers that ensued quickly allowed the industry to take a more business-like approach to organizing and promoting itself more aggressively to the general public. Air shows now had a single forum in which to discuss issues of common concern, to share ideas, and, to conduct business with performers and support service providers.
Perhaps nowhere did the formation of ICAS have greater significance than in providing a single source for working with governmental regulators and the military. Negotiation with bodies such as the FAA and the IIC was a natural role for ICAS to fill and, in so doing, air shows were able to re-focus their attention on the challenges and details of running their businesses. Likewise, ICAS developed a close working relationship with the military in both the United States and Canada, a symbiotic relationship that has allowed military bases to thrive as locations for air shows as well as provided the ideal venue for military acts such as the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds, and Snowbirds to become invaluable publicity tools for recruitment.
Armed with more cooperative and efficient relationships with regulatory bodies and the military, air shows steadily grew in number and stature throughout North America. Spectators flocked to shows to experience the thrill of military jets, the awe of gravity-defying biplanes, and all manner of entertainment both in the sky and on the ground. By the turn of the century, air shows had become a substantial economic force in North America, with tens of millions of spectators showing up each year to enjoy an especially exciting brand of family entertainment.
Meanwhile, ICAS continually redefined itself, working with members to assemble the products and services that air show professionals needed to ply their trade. At the heart of the organization was the annual ICAS Convention, which saw steady growth through the years as a once-a-year opportunity for shows and performers to share ideas, conduct business, and continually look for ways to advance the industry. Outside of the convention, the organization sought the assistance of volunteers who brought their expertise to the table in assembling standards in the areas of safety, education, professional practice, and ethics that have allowed the air show industry to operate with a spirit of continuous improvement that positions it well to thrive now and in the future.