A proposal to secure the future of the Bournemouth Air Festival by moving to a three-day council run event in 2024 will go to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council’s cabinet on November 22.

The plan includes inviting proposals from external organisations to support and fund the festival in 2025 and beyond.

The proposals and ideas have been developed with stakeholders and partners through an Air Festival task and finish group who have explored detailed evidence and data on how the event has run since it started in 2008.

Proposals for next year’s event include a council investment of £200k with £100k additional income from sponsorship, donations and commercial activity, above the £580k direct income the festival raised in 2023.

The Cabinet report lists potential changes to the festival in future which could include:

  • Development of Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM) involvement, possibly to include Arts (STEAM)
  • The development of a ‘Festival of Air’ to replace the event from 2025 with content including kites and drones, with a potential display by the Red Arrows or Typhoon
  • In 2025 future funding could come from money raised by an Accommodation Business Improvement District (ABID), but the report notes this is at early stages of exploration and would require a ballot of levy payers before progressing
  • Support from Bournemouth Area Hospitality Association (BAHA) to cover the costs of accommodation for display teams, which was budgeted at £22,449 in 2023
  • An expansion of environmental initiatives, including those already happening such as 1-in-3 campaign aimed at encouraging all festival goers to consider more sustainable ways to travel to the event, the Leave only Footprints campaign and the Refill Dorset Scheme
  • A three-day event with a fourth community ‘fun’ day funded and run by external organisations

The paper states that 2024’s event will miss the Red Arrows due to their commitments overseas but notes council teams are working to secure alternative multi-jet and fast-jet display teams in Europe.

The report reflects the meaningful steps the council is taking to deliver a balanced budget for 2024/25 despite the challenging financial climate in which it is operating.

Councillor Andy Martin, Portfolio Holder for Customer, Communications and Culture said:

This proposal is a stepping stone to a long-term economic and cultural future for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole. Our area is built on a visitor economy and this proposal is about supporting the businesses that depend on it with a long-term way forward, while also recognising the cultural value it brings in making the area a great place to live, work and play. I’d like to say a huge thank you to the business community, council officers and BCP cabinet members who have together explored new ways of organising and sustainably funding the festival over the last few months. We are in a tough financial climate and as an open and transparent council, we welcome this debate and democratic decision making. What we do know is that there has been an escalation in uncontrollable costs in delivering the event since 2019 and there are concerns about the impact on the environment. We also know we have a £44m budget shortfall and we have had to make tough decisions about the future of some council services. We also know the value this event brings to the economy, to the cultural offer of our area and to wellbeing. I hope this proposal reconciles all these valid and compelling stand points and charts a course for a future financially sustainable festival that we can all be proud of.

The provisional dates for next year’s event are Thursday 29 August to Saturday 31 August.

The proposals will now go through the Council’s normal scrutiny procedures and will go before Cabinet on November 22.

The recommendations are that Cabinet:

  1. Agrees to BCP Council running a three-day Air Festival in 2024, at a net cost of £200k to BCP Council. This will require the Air Festival team to work with local businesses to bring in additional sponsorship, donations, external funding, and commercial activity of at least £100k.
  2. Notes the inherent financial risks associated with the running of an Air Festival including weather related loss of income.
  3. Agrees that there will be no Council funding or direct staffing support for the Air Festival beyond 2024.
  4. Agrees to invite proposals from external organisations to support and fund Air Festival in 2025 and beyond.
  5. Delegates to the Director of Commercial Operations in consultation with the Portfolio holders for Finance and Connected Communities, the implementation of these decisions.