PUNTA GORDA — Despite some minor parking problems Saturday, the Florida International Air Show was a big hit over the weekend, organizers said.

"(We) were excited about the ticket sales and the reception to some of the new features of the air show grounds such as our Flight Line bar, which was a hit, and our family and friends chalets that sold out," FIAS spokesperson Steve Lineberry said. "Everyone also raved about the atmosphere and food drink in the president's club."

The air show had around 8,200 attendees Saturday with another 6,500 Sunday. Those totals included sponsored guests and volunteers.

Overall ticket sale totals are still being determined.

Those numbers are low, however, compared to 2019 when an estimated 75,000 people came for the popular United States Air Force Thunderbirds performance that headlined the show.

Most years, the air show would average between 10,000 and 15,000 per day. Last year, the air show was canceled because of COVID-19 and ramp reconstruction at the Punta Gorda Airport.

"We expected the numbers to be lower due to the fact you had the Arcadia Fall Rodeo (in DeSoto County) going on and you also had the Thunderbirds performing at the Orlando Air and Space Show in Sanford," Lineberry said.

He said they didn't have an option when to hold the airshow because the U.S. military dictates where and when its teams will perform.

"The U.S. military branches assign their military jet teams (like the U.S. Air Force Viper team) so we had to do it this past weekend," Lineberry said. "But we are pleased and excited for all the attendees that came to our air show."

Since 1981, Lineberry said the organization has donated more than $5 million to working nonprofit groups in the area. 

"The board of directors appreciate all of those that support FIAS because net proceeds go to over 30 working nonprofit groups," Lineberry said. "If they work the air show, we give them a percentage of the net profits, which are still being determined."

Some of the weekend's main highlights included aerobatic pilot Patty Wagstaff, U.S. Special Operations Command Parachute Team, the giant C-17 transport aircraft and the F-16 Viper Demo Team.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Aimee Fiedler served as ground pilot for the F-16 demo team.

"The hospitality was phenomenal," Fiedler said. "I enjoyed exploring Punta Gorda during the off hours, eating at the restaurants and meeting great people."

The Viper team performs at around 20 air shows a year.

Viper team maintenance leader Master Sgt. Brandon Baden said their experience at FIAS was unlike any other.

"We have not experienced this kind of atmosphere anywhere between the air show fans and organizers anywhere, and I've been with the team for two years," he said.

Baden went on to say that when they arrived they saw their Viper demo team on shirts, posters and banners.

"The excitement from FIAS attendees was transferred to us and they were amped up to do a great show," he said. "We would like to return as soon as possible."

Lineberry said the only real issue they had over the weekend was with parking Saturday. 

"We rely on all volunteers and organizations to help man the booths (and) a glitch occurred on Saturday when air show organizers found that the volunteer parking money takers did not appear," Lineberry said.

The issue was solved by Sunday, however.

For next year's air show, organizers are considering options for increasing the efficiency of the parking system.

Lineberry said the FIAS team will meet soon to determine the next air show's date.

"They will also be looking at possibilities of a new setup due to reconstruction ongoing at the airport," he said.

To find out more about the Florida International Air Show and its history, go to FloridaAirShow.com.

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