Arts & Entertainment Community

The airshow will go on, though a bit belatedly

Posted on April 25th, 2022 By:

The Wings & Wheels airshow, normally held over the Fourth of July weekend at Tacoma Narrows Airport, was rescued from cancelation, but had to be pushed back to Aug. 27-28.

The event was all but dead in March. Airshow Director Doug Fratoni posted on Facebook, “with a heavy heart,” that it had been canceled because “the two fixed-base operators at the airport that control a vast majority of the usable ramp space have withdrawn all support of the event, claiming it is too disruptive to their daily operations.”

Over the past month, however, presenter Tacoma Events Commission (TEC), Pierce County officials and the county-owned airport’s managers devised a plan to proceed with a smaller footprint, according to a press release.

Another obstacle was a lack of fuel at the airport for airshow planes. Fixed-base operators provide fueling for planes, among other services. TEC President and CEO Tony La Stella wasn’t available before deadline to explain how those problems were overcome.

A bi-plane performs at a previous event.

A bi-plane performs at a previous event.

Timing off for weekend of 4th

The time required to do so, however, prevented TEC from filing for permits for the Fourth of July weekend, La Stella stated in the press release. He said in an email on April 20 that he was in final discussions with Pierce County and should have an answer by Friday about the Fourth as that was the deadline for filing for an event permit.

The TEC created Wings & Wheels in 2010 as an offshoot of its Fourth of July Freedom Fair airshow held annually on the Tacoma waterfront, to give the community a chance to meet the pilots and see the planes up close. Attendance had ramped up to more than 7,000 people who enjoyed the airshow, static airplane displays, car show, food vendors and beer garden.

Two years ago it was canceled because of the pandemic. Last summer, about 4,500 people attended when the event was pared to only a drive-in airshow.

The airport’s fixed-base operators are Narrows Aviation and Pavco Flight Center. Wings & Wheels used ramp space leased from Narrows to stage the event in past years. Narrows declined to participate this time.

“This year they said they’re just too busy and they’re not going to support it, and there’s nothing we can do,” Fratoni, the airshow director, said in March.

Show seemed unlikely to happen

The TEC was negotiating with another company for a smaller area, but a deal appeared unlikely, Fratoni said.

“Well, I’m a little sad, yeah,” Fratoni said then when the show looked like it wouldn’t go on. “I’ve put a lot of effort and a lot of time into building this into a great success.”

Besides the airshow, Wings & Wheels features static plan displays, a car show, food vendors and a beer garden.

Besides the airshow, Wings & Wheels features static plane displays, a car show, food vendors and a beer garden.

Airport Manager Rod Probst also gave the event little chance of occurring.

“They’re still negotiating with one of the leaseholders, so it’s still a possibility,” he said. “It just doesn’t look very probable right now.”

Probst said he could understand Narrows Aviation’s position.

“Tacoma Narrows Aviation has done this for years,” he said. “It’s just that their business model is severely impacted by shutting down for four days over a holiday weekend. They decided they don’t want to do that. It’s a business decision. They’ve been very supportive over the past several years.”

If the new footprint and fueling arrangements work out in August, the TEC hopes that Wings & Wheels will revert to the closest weekend to July 4 in 2023.

Though the website (gigharborwings& is in the process of being updated, tickets will soon be available there.

Tacoma airshow wasn’t so fortunate

Though TEC reorganized a belated Wings & Wheels, it was forced to cancel the Tacoma airshow altogether. COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings that only recently were lifted made it difficult to plan, La Stella said.

Military planes, which pull in the major sponsors, needed to be arranged a year in advance. Without them, it wasn’t possible to raise the $70,000 needed to put on the show, he said.

After a two-year COVID-19 hiatus, there will again be an Independence Day festival sans the airshow but under a new name — Summer Blast. The Blast will spread over 1.5 miles from Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance Park to Cummings Park on the Ruston Way waterfront. It will feature a day of entertainment, food and vendors, capped by an $80,000 fireworks display.