Safety first, entertainment second: That is the message to the display pilots at Dubai '97 from the Flying Control Committee.

"If that means that we have to say 'no' to certain manoeuvres which pilots suggest they would like to perform, then so be it," says committee chairman Lt Col Mohammed Swaidan.

"Within the limits we set down, we want visitors to see something exciting and to give the manufacturers the best opportunity to display their aircraft."

The committee's task, to approve and manage the airborne content of the show, is a complex one.

Not only does the excitement factor have to be balanced against the safety imperative, it also has to be done in such a way that the commercial life of Dubai International Airport can go on with minimal disruption.

The four-member committee wields extensive power. It controls the applications from companies wishing to enter aircraft for the daily displays.

It carries out rigorous validation before granting an individual pilot approval and it can ground any aircraft deemed to be unfit or where a pilot has violated aviation regulations.

But this isn't a case of bureaucratic kill-joys spoiling the party. The committee members have a wealth of experience and know what can be achieved. Lt Col Swaidan is himself a fighter pilot and when not planning or overseeing the airshow commands a military airbase.

Vice-chairman and airport park director Alan Skennerton is a helicopter pilot as well as safety and security manager for the Department of Civil Aviation at the international airport.

Says Skennerton: "One of the most interesting aspects is the psychological profiling of pilots. We work closely with them as they submit proposals for displays and throughout the validation process."

Validation requires the pilots to show their exact routines to the committee - including both a good and bad weather programme. Once approved it must be stuck to for the whole period of the show.

Although the regulations are stringent, there are instances when particular teams will be granted dispensations - on occasion to fly lower than the 60m (200ft) low-level limit.

During the show itself pilots have to attend daily briefings by the committee. Says Lt Col Swaidan: "If they don't show up for the briefing, they don't fly - simple as that. Along with safety, briefings deal with weather and aircraft movements."

In the days running up to the show, priority is given to the commercial movements taking place a few hundred metres away. Once the show is open to visitors that priority changes and Dubai International Airport is closed for about three hours each day.

Source: Flight Daily News