Aircraft perform above Santa Maria for the 2019 Central Coast AirFest.
Aircraft perform above Santa Maria for the 2019 Central Coast AirFest. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk file photo)

Grounded twice by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Central Coast AirFest will take off again in 2022.

The Santa Maria Public Airport District Board of Directors recently agreed to support the air show’s return after a two-year break, although some members expressed concern about the budget.

The event launched in October 2018 and was followed in 2019 before COVID-19 forced its cancellation for the next two years.

General Manager Chris Hastert said he recommended that the air show continue, noting that it’s a lot of work but also a great marketing tool for the community, potential developers and airlines.

The aviation industry faces a shortage of pilots and mechanics with air shows traditionally helping spark an interest in the careers, Hastert said. 

“Anything that we can do to promote kids coming onto the airport to be able to get a touch and a feel of an airplane and experience aviation firsthand definitely helps out with that,” Hastert said.

It also helps bring airport businesses together, according to Hastert and Chris Kunkle, AirFest director and Central Coast Jet Center representative.

“I think it’s really important for outreach for aviation, and also I think it ultimately brings people closer together to understanding what the airport does for the community,” Kunkle said. 

Volunteer Jim Bray added that the last air show had 54 sponsors, with 95% of them local businesses. The event also attracted roughly 300 youth volunteers, who helped out in various ways. 

“The goal with that is also to be able to give back to some of those groups after the air show with some of the proceeds,” Hastert said. “It definitely gives them exciting events that hopefully influences their lives and maybe changes some career goals as well.”

The event honors the military and veterans with volunteers and equipment also coming from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

“It is a very good positive community relationship-building opportunity with Vandenberg Space Force Base,” Bray said.

Some prior performers have expressed an interest in returning to Santa Maria, Kunkle said. 

An air show would fall in next year’s budget, but organizers plan to attend the International Council of Air Shows in December, which serves as a key event for lining up performers and other aspects.

Board president Steve Brown said he wanted to see a firm budget before the event. 

“I think the air show was great. I think it was put on good. I think it’s great for the community. I just want to make sure that there’s a budget to where it’s not a blank check,” Brown said. 

Hastert said he could bring a draft budget to a future meeting, with travel to ICAS as a first step for developing the budget. He also said he could provide the preliminary budget created for the 2020 show before its cancellation because of COVID-19.

Brown said he would be happy with a ballpark spending plan. 

“I don’t like flying in the blind,” he added.

In response to a question from board member Carl Engel about whether the air shows are coming back after the pandemic, Kunkle said air shows held in other communities, including Wing Over Camarillo in August, attracted large crowds. 

“Air shows are doing really well right now,” Kunkle said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at