Gig Harbor’s Wings & Wheels, the annual airplane and car show at the Tacoma Narrows Airport, has been permanently grounded, its organizer has announced, after it was denied a permit in early June by Pierce County.
Support for the July 4th weekend event from airport businesses dried up, according to those businesses, Pierce County and the event’s organizer, the Tacoma Events Commission (TEC).
It’s one of the few points they all agree on.
“I’m fed up with them,” PAVCO Flight Center owner Mike Pickett said of the TEC on Tuesday.
PAVCO is one of the fixed-based operators (FBO) at the airport. An FBO is a company that provides aviation services such as fueling, flight schools and servicing.
The county owns the airport and leases space to businesses there.
Wings & Wheels, held since 2010, drew 7,500 spectators pre-COVID. TEC said last week the cancellation was a death blow for the event. The event is gone for good.
The nonprofit TEC was most known for its Freedom Fair celebration on Ruston Way. That event is also gone and will be replaced by a Metro Parks Tacoma organized July 4th celebration.
In a June 3 letter, Pierce County airport and ferry administrator Trever Threde told TEC president Tony La Stella that the 2022 Wings and Wheels event plan could not be held at the Tacoma Narrows Airport.
Threde cited several factors in the county’s decision:
▪ Lack of available space for the anticipated event size.
▪ Lack of support from airport businesses and the airport advisory commission.
▪ The potential impact on endangered species that reside at the airport.
▪ “Numerous complaints” from surrounding property owners during past Wings and Wheels.
County spokesperson Libby Catalinich said the county would not comment beyond what was contained in the letter.
TACOMA EVENTS COMMISSION
La Stella said the all-volunteer events commission announced in March that it was not going to hold the event in 2022 because the FBOs at the airport opposed it.
Then, he heard from the public. “There was such an uprising of people in the community complaining they wanted the event,” he told The News Tribune.
TEC changed course and applied for a permit, booked private and military air-show performers and began selling tickets.
La Stella said the events commission previously worked through the various issues raised in the county’s letter, including reducing the space needed for the event. The airshow shuts down private and commercial air traffic at the airport for up to five hours on two consecutive days.
Now, the events commission has lost $5,000-$10,000 in non-refundable deposits for participating air-show performers, La Stella said, in addition to hours spent organizing the event. The on-again-off-again schedule damaged the event’s reputation with military aeronautic groups, he said. The U.S. Coast Guard, Army and Air Force reportedly were planning to participate this year.
“There’s a lot of damages here to us that go beyond the cash damages,” he said.
Like other events, Wings & Wheels was canceled in 2020. In 2021, a drive-in event was held at the airport and drew 1,600 people to four sold-out shows, La Stella said.
La Stella said the county told him it received 10 complaints from the public about the event. He also dismissed the endangered species concern but only because an environmental impact study has been conducted each year prior to the show.
“If somebody came back and said, you’re going be endangering something, they would be shutting down more than just our event,” La Stella said. “They’ll be shutting down half the airport.”
FIXED BASED OPERATORS
PAVCO’s Pickett said he’s a long-time fan of air shows but Wings & Wheels has lost his support. He cited safety concerns and loss of revenue as his main concerns.
“I don’t hate air shows,” Pickett said. “I’d love to have an air show here.”
Narrows Aviation is the other main FBO at Tacoma Narrows Airport, servicing private jets and general aviation.
In the show’s early years, both operators fueled planes for Wings & Wheels. Neither wanted to service the show in 2022. If the event had proceeded this year, planes would have had to refuel at another airport, La Stella said.
Narrows Aviation owner George Swift did not respond to queries for comment on this story.
This story was originally published by The News Tribune.