In a surprise move, the Chicago-Rockford International Airport announced today that it will not hold its annual Rockford AirFest in 2016 after it was unable to reach an agreement with the US Air Force on an appearance by the F-22 Raptor. The show was left off of the Blue Angel and Thunderbird schedules released in December, but was very confident that the Raptor would be assigned to perform instead. The Air Force treats the F-22 as a major headlining act on the same level as the jet teams, and generally only sends it to shows without a team already performing.
The show was listed on several performer schedules as taking place the weekend of June 18-19, but according to airport’s Executive Director Mike Dunn it was originally planned for the first weekend of June. The F-22 was unable to make it that weekend because of the military’s Academy Week, and the Air Force proposed a shift to Memorial Day weekend. The organizers were unwilling to make that move due to competition with a nearby festival, and they ultimately reached an agreement with the Air Force for the 18-19th before the Air Force later ruled that weekend out as well, leading to the cancellation.
The move is very surprising because the show had already arranged a stronger lineup than most, including the USMC Harrier, the Breitling Jet Team, an expected US Navy F-18 Hornet demonstration, and a possible USAF F-16 demonstration in place of the F-22. The F-22 does not have the star power of the jet teams and the amount of attendance drop off stemming from its absence is questionable. There are two other larger shows in the region scheduled for that same weekend; St. Thomas, Ontario and Dayton, Ohio. It will be interesting to see how many of Rockford’s acts shift to them or even elsewhere.