Funding crunch could ground Flight Fest

This year’s Chilliwack Flight Fest could be the last.

The annual air show, in its 20th year, is in financial jeopardy after it was denied a government gaming grant worth over $30,000 for next year – approximately 30 per cent of the event’s overall budget.

“The air show is an important part of the community. It would be a real shame if we couldn’t continue to do it,' said Ray Firkus, director with the Flight Fest Society.

“The air show is an important part of the community. It would be a real shame if we couldn’t continue to do it,' said Ray Firkus, director with the Flight Fest Society.

This year’s Chilliwack Flight Fest could be the last. The annual air show, in its 20th year, is in financial jeopardy after it was denied a government gaming grant worth over $30,000 for next year – approximately 30 per cent of the event’s overall budget.

In the past, Flight Fest relied heavily on Bingo Affiliation Grants and Direct Access Grants to fund necessary costs including portable toilets, security, insurance, fuel, etc. But when the two grants were rolled into one, and qualification guidelines were changed, Chilliwack Flight Fest no longer qualified.

A letter notifying the Flight Fest Society their grant application had been declined stated heritage festivals and community fairs qualified, but dragon boat festivals, wine festivals, and Chilliwack Flight Fest didn’t.

“It doesn’t say why we didn’t qualify,” said Ray Firkus, director with the society. “We’ve been trying to figure out where the line in the sand is and what makes a cowboy days or a local community heritage fair qualify, and yet our air show doesn’t.”

The air show was started by the air cadets 20 years ago as an open house to show the community what the local airport had to offer. It remains one of the only free air shows in Canada.

“By bringing the community in here, people got to realize that everybody in this community is lucky to have an airport like this and we should all have some pride in it,” said Firkus.

“The air show is an important part of the community. It would be a real shame if we couldn’t continue to do it.”

The society does receive several in-kind donations from the community, and it uses sponsorships to offset the costs of performers.

“But there’s a lot of stuff that we still have to pay for that requires cash,” said Firkus. “No matter how good a break we get, there’s still a lot of cash that’s required in order to make this happen.”

It costs approximately $100,000 to put the air show on. Without the gaming grant, sponsorships would have to pay for the entire thing.

The society has been focusing on revamping its sponsorship packages, looking for ways that will benefit both the Flight Fest and its sponsors.

However, organizers have been running into struggles with the still poor economy and with community complacency.

“The air show’s been here 20 years, and everybody assumes because it was here last year, it’ll be here next year,” said Firkus. “And that’s not a safe assumption.”

The society has resubmitted an application for the community gaming grant, with more details included about the annual event, as well as the benefits it provides to the community.

Anyone interested in supporting Chilliwack Flight Fest, can contact the society by email at info@chilliwackairshow.ca.

This year’s Flight Fest is on Aug. 20 and 21.

kbartel@theprogress.com

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Chilliwack Progress