Fight to save Wings Over Illawarra begins as annual air show is in jeopardy

Wings Over Illawarra: Mark and Kerry Bright with Red Bull air racer Matt Hall (centre) who loves the Illawarra air show so much he has been six times. Picture: Anna Warr.

Wings Over Illawarra: Mark and Kerry Bright with Red Bull air racer Matt Hall (centre) who loves the Illawarra air show so much he has been six times. Picture: Anna Warr.

After a weekend of soul searching the couple behind the annual air show that injects $5 million into the Illawarra economy are determined to keep going despite making a considerable loss.

Mark and Kerry Bright have been told in the past not to take such a big risk personally in investing so much in the second largest regional event in NSW. But they love what Wings Over Illawarra represents for the region and how much people enjoy it.

"We definitely want to do it again," Mr Bright said.

Ticket sales from the 2019 event on May 4 and 5 were $721,000 and the cost of the event was more than $1.5 million. Financial support from Destination NSW and some corporate generosity meant Bright Events were able to cover around $1.3 million but with lower numbers this year they are still significantly in debt.

The additional problem the couple has is that 2019 was the final year of a three year contract with Destination NSW, the largest financial contributor.

After a weekend of crunching the numbers the first item on Mr and Mrs Bright's agenda on Monday was to brief their staff on where things were at and what the future is likely to hold.

Following that they sat down with the Illawarra Mercury and outlined what they plan to do next. Their three top priorities are to find a way to pay their debts quickly, try and negotiate a new three year deal with Destination NSW and seek more corporate support for 2020 such as that from BMW Macarthur and South Coast.

Bright Events is determined to host another Wings Over Illawarra in May, 2020. In their hearts they know it will be bigger, better and more financially sustainable than this year when only 21,000 people attended compared to 30,000 in 2018.

The couple knows why numbers were down. It was not the weather on Sunday when the attendance was similar to Saturday.

Not being able to secure aircraft such as the Hornet was a factor. Mr Bright said they would have been there if they could but operational duty came first and this year's air show coincided with a major Defence Force training exercise held every two years. He is confident Wings Over Illawarra 2020 can set another attendance record and cover all the costs of staging such a major event that contributes so much to the region.

As in the past the majority of attendees this year came from outside the region and many stayed in local hotels and motels. "It helped book out all accommodation in the region," Mr Bright said.

The Brights said they could not have run the event so successfully in recent years without so much support from business, 40 volunteers and their own team including Ashlee Morey-Hype, Bob Bertram and Jan Sinclair.

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This story The fight to save Wings Over Illawarra begins first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.