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Whenever one of the military jet teams appear at the Florida International Air Show at Punta Gorda Airport, there is a boost in attendance, said Sean Doherty, director of the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau, of the Air Force’s Thunderbirds or the Navy’s Blue Angels. 

Since the Thunderbirds are scheduled to perform at the air show on Nov. 4-5, hopes are high among officials that attendance will be large.  

The difference between having a military jets team and not having one on the schedule shows in statistics culled in 2017 and 2019. Doherty said the presence of one of those teams attracts more visitors to the air show and, hence, more spending in the county. 

In 2017, the air show did not have one of those teams, but 2019 brought the Thunderbirds. 

“We made the decision back in 2017 to start doing economic impact studies on the air show every two to three years,” Doherty said. The next study will take place after this year’s show. 

In 2017, the total estimated economic impact of out-of-county visitors attending was $4,251,200. For the entire event period, the shows supported an estimated 2,800 room nights in area lodgings. 

In 2019 when the Thunderbirds appeared, the total economic impact of out-of-county visitors was $5,221,700. They spent $3,601,200 during the show, and booked 3,582 room nights, according to that year’s report.  

“Unfortunately, due to [COVID-19] and runway renovations, the show has been canceled a couple of times in the past few years,” Doherty said. 

The air show is a Florida 501(c) (4) nonprofit corporation staffed entirely by volunteers.  

This year’s president is Denise Dull, director of operations and marketing for the Peace River Community Housing Partners, an advocate for sustainable, affordable and safe housing. She is the first female to serve in that role in the show’s 42-year history. 

“This year is in line to be an amazing show,” Dull said. “I came to be the president by being a volunteer first. I started in the vending area selling beer and monitoring VIP wristbands. 

She went on to sit on the board of directors and was co-chair of vending and concessions before becoming president. 

Over the decades, the air show has grown and provides multiple activities. It is held at Punta Gorda Airport, which hosted an air show on New Year’s Day in 1950. Betty Skelton was a featured performer and star of that show, which was not a part of the Florida International Air Show, or FIAS, as it is organized today. 

She returned to the airport in 2008 during the FIAS and was honored and recognized as a pioneer of aviation before the crowd. 

Currently, 500 volunteers are working to put on the upcoming air show and make sure the talent, such as the Thunderbirds, will have the accommodations they need. 

“It’s not easy to get a jet team to come to your air show,” Dull said. 

“The schedule has to fit just right, you have to fit recruitment criteria that the military branch may be looking at. Your ticket counts and social media presence makes a big difference, and they have to like how they are treated when they come to the destination. We try very hard every year to have teams consider our show, and some year’s we are luckier than others.” 

Beside the Thunderbirds, this year’s star attractions include Patty Wagstaff, a six-time member of the U.S. Aerobatic team and the first woman to win the title of U.S. National Aerobatic champion. 

As in past air shows, the SOCOM Para-Commandos are appearing. They are U.S. Special Operations Commandos forming an aerial parachute demonstration team. 

The Para-Commandos are members of today’s Special Operations forces from the Army Special Forces, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Air Force Combat Controllers and Marine Raiders. 

Other performers will include aerobatic performance teams and a racing jet team that will demonstrate the fastest jets on the racecourse. 

All proceeds go to local charities that provide volunteers for the show’s set-up, operations and breakdown of the event. 

Gates open at 9 a.m. and the show begins at noon. In the event of rain on Saturday, Nov. 4, tickets will be honored on Sunday, Nov. 5, the final date of the event. If it rains on both days, tickets will be honored at the next air show. 

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