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Airshow strengthens security for weekend performances

Four U.S. Navy Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornets fly in a tight formation near the Duluth International Airport while practicing Thursday afternoon for this weekend's Duluth Air and Aviation Expo.

When the gates open this weekend for the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo, tighter security will be in place to ensure the safety of visitors and volunteers.

“We were always enforcing security (and bag checks) but now we’re definitely adding more people,” said Jodi Grayson, one of the event’s media directors. “We changed the layout of where our entrance is to make it flow better.”

The updated layout makes it harder for people to bypass security and get into the airshow grounds from elsewhere. Grayson said attendees might be in line for a bit longer than at past years’ airshows, but organizers want everyone to feel safe.

Airshow officials are still unsure if attendance will be up or down from last summer’s event; this weekend marks the first time they will present the airshow in back-to-back years. Ticket sales are doing well, Grayson said this week — numbers are about where they were last year leading up to the show.

“We don’t know if the same people want to come back every year,” Grayson said. “Some do and some don’t. So it may get some new people and it may turn away some people.”

Airshow organizers broke the tradition of holding the spectacle every other year when the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels asked if they could perform this year, on the heels of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds performing at the airshow last summer.

Officials agreed it would be a good idea for everyone.

“When you come together every two years as a team you have to take a few months to remember everything you were doing,” Grayson said. Staging the show in back-to-back years “was good because we could just continue moving forward.”

Parking remains the same as last year, when a professional event traffic consultant helped organize parking alternatives, which included implementing a shuttle service to and from parking lots that decreased the traffic congestion in the vicinity of the airport.

The airshow is a key part of summer tourism in Duluth, said CEO Anna Tanski of Visit Duluth, the city’s visitor bureau. And it’s an event they promote heavily on their marketing platforms to draw consumers into the area.

“I just think a city our size is very fortunate to have such a significant lineup in our community,” Tanski said, “and it really is, you know with all the headliners they have, an incredible and really unique experience.”

In addition to the Blue Angels — who last performed in Duluth at the 2014 airshow — this weekend’s event will host performances by a number of other military and civilian aircraft, including two skydiving teams as opposed to last year’s one, and aerobatic performers. There also will be a greater number of aircraft on display on the ground.

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