The organisers of the UK's Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) have reported massive interest in this year's event, despite the last-minute cancellation of the 2008 show due to waterlogging at Royal Air Force base Fairford in Gloucestershire.

"With the recession, we anticipated poor sales, but they're roaring," says Tim Prince, chief executive of the RAF Charitable Trust Enterprises (RAFCTE). He says "we're well over 25% up on our ticket sales" for the 18-19 July show.

First staged in 1971, RIAT is now the world's largest military air show, and is expected to attract around 160,000 visitors and 300 aircraft in July.

Nimrod MR2 web - CH FINT
© Craig Hoyle/Flight International

The launch event on 3 June was supported by three visiting aircraft: a British Aerospace Nimrod MR2 (above) from RAF Kinloss, a Westland Sea King HAR3A from RAF Chivenor and a NATO Boeing E-3A airborne warning and control system aircraft (below) from Geilenkirchen air base in Germany.

© Craig Hoyle/Flight International

To avoid a repeat of last year's disappointment, the organisers are spending around £200,000 ($321,000) this year on improvements including the provision of spine-way tracks for the grass car parks, which were reduced to a quagmire ahead of last year's show. "We've got the resilience to react to any weather," says Prince.

Additional room has been sourced using some of the US Air Force-operated base's aircraft parking aprons. These are available for public use for the first time since before 9/11.

Major changes in ticketing policy have been introduced. Tickets must be purchased in advance for a particular day, and none will be available at the gate. "The limiting factor is not the capacity of the car parks: it's the roads," says Prince. Access to the site comes via just three rural roads, and traffic jams have been an annual hazard for those visiting the event.

Themes for this year's show include commemorating the 60th anniversary of NATO, the centenary of UK Royal Navy aviation, and "Sea Search" activities involving maritime patrol aircraft and search-and-rescue helicopters (RAF Sea King below).

Sea King HAR3A - CH FINT
© Craig Hoyle/Flight International

Under current plans the militaries of more than 20 nations will send aircraft to participate in RIAT's daily flying and static displays. Their contributions include eight aerobatic display teams, including the RAF's Red Arrows and Italy's Frecce Tricolori.

With the US Air Force having recently cancelled its planned repeat deployment of Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors - three visited Fairford for last year's show in the type's first European visit - highlights will include a debut showing by two French air force Dassault Rafale fighters and displays involving the UK's restored Avro Vulcan XH558.

The RAFCTE received an insurance payout of around £4 million following last year's cancellation, enabling it to refund all ticket buyers, return pitch fees to traders and compensate some advertisers. It nonetheless expects to donate £300,000 from the cancelled event's proceeds to support RAF charities, boosting the £1 million gifted between 2005 and 2007.

Meanwhile, BAE Systems has confirmed its commitment to sponsor the annual RIAT show until 2012, having begun its current support in 1998.