Festa al Cel 2017

Lleida-Alguaire, 23-24 September 2017


Festa al Cel has had a difficult few years behind it. After the last-minute cancellation in 2013 due to the alledged proximity to the Barcelona-El Prat airspace, the subsequent move to Mataro and their withdrawal from the show in 2016, the show organization was planning to hold the 2017 airshow at Santa Susanna, but that plan also fell through at the eleventh hour.


Safety concerns about a lack of evacuation routes meant Santa Susanna did not receive a permit for the show on their seaside. With time running out fast, a new venue was found at the airport of Lleida-Alguaire, about 180 kilometres west of Barcelona. Unlike other Spanish airports, this new airport, which opened in 2010, is under control of the regional government of Catalonia, not the Spanish airport agency AENA. Previously, the airport had hosted the Lleida Air Challenge, but a show on the scale of Festa al Cel is a whole new ball game.


There are only few scheduled flights from the airport and traffic is a bit slow in general with the oocasional training flight of Vuelling or the local aeroclub, though the proximity to ski-resorts in the nearby Pyrenees no doubt means there is potential for charter flights in winter time.

The relative quiet is of course great news for the airshow because airport operations are not impeded by regular operations, and vice versa. Staff at the airport were very welcome and accommodating, evidently enjoying this break from routine. No doubt, the airshow weekend made the year for the airport café inside the terminal, which served up some decent food at very reasonable prices.


On Saturday morning, spotters were able to see participating aircraft and their support upclose for free, a very nice gesture, while preparations for the show continued apace. This included lots of TV-equipment as the show would be broadcast live on Sunday by the Spanish national channel TVE.



On Saturday, the show ran from about 16:30 until 20:30, while the Sunday programme ran from roughly 11:00 to 15:00.
As it turned out the audience could also see most of the participating planes on the ground while they walked from the entrance to the main crowd area. The public area was quite limited as was the parking space outside, though on Sunday, it was clear that some additional parking fields had been created, though whether this was planned or a spontaneous crowd initiative, I dare not say. Inside the crowd area on the airfield, there were also some small trade stalls of participating units and a catering tent.


Civilian participation at the show consisted of the Fundacio Parc Aeronautic de Catalunya with a T-34 Mentor and a Jungmann and the Aeroclub de Barcelona Sabadell with a trio of Cessna 172/182s for characteristic Festa al Cel carussels. Also present were the Paramotors de Barcelona. From the UK came GliderFX, with Ian Gallagher presenting a pyrotechnic spectacular on Saturday evening and a full aerobatics routine on Sunday with a Fox glider.
Foreign military participation came from the Polish air force with a PZL-130 Orlik trainer, standing in for the full Orlik team that had to cancel due to a large military exercise in Poland, the Belgian F-16 solo display and the Patrouille de France weaving their multi-coloured patterns on Saturday.

That meant the bulk of the flying display came courtesy of the Spanish military. The Army sent over solodisplays by an NH-90 and CH-47 Chinook, while the Spanish Navy provided an AV-8B for an impressive demonstration of its hovering capability. Finally, the Spanish air force attended with their EF-18 solo display coming over straight from Zaragoza, an A400M coming over from the same airbase, and the Patrulla Aguila bringing some national pride to the event.


While the move from a seaside event to an airshow at an airport brought its own challenges in terms of security and ground operations, Festa al Cel 2017 laid a solid foundation to build on for future editions of the show at Lleida-Alguaire. The programme had plenty of variety and no doubt, everyone hopes the event will return to its fixed spot on the airshow calendar.