In the heart of downtown Toronto, the Canadian International Air Show took centre stage this past weekend. This annual spectacle, now in its 74th year, serves as the grand finale to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) and is widely recognised for its testament to aviation acumen. Professional pilots confidently command the airspace with a jaw-dropping display of stunts and synchronised manoeuvres in a variety of specialty aircraft. A marvel for the eyes, yet a concern for the ears, as the show runs for three hours daily in the lead-up to Labour Day, with its sonic footprint echoing for miles.
Yet, for some local denizens, this time-honoured tradition has garnered a less-than-enthusiastic response. Among the voices opposing the auditory onslaught is Ingrid Buday, a GTA resident and data enthusiast who recorded the noise levels at a staggering 110 dBZ – a pitch akin to an extended play of a police siren or a trombone.
Remarking on the spectacle, Buday acknowledges, “The Air Show is a thrilling display of advanced technology. But we must pause to consider: at what cost? What’s the toll it takes on our environment and our citizenry? The time has come to re-think, if not entirely reshape, this tradition. Just because we have celebrated it in the past, doesn’t mean we must blindly perpetuate it. We have transcended fireworks with drone shows, perhaps an alternative for this event lurks just beyond the horizon.”
She further argues that the sonic disturbance inflicted by the exhibition bears the potential to distress community members recovering from mental illness or living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “This noise is unjust,” she contends. “Born from one source but suffered by many.”
Former city councillor Sarah Doucette echoed Buday’s sentiments, detailing on a social media platform – once known as Twitter, but now referred to as X – how for five days, her house reverberated with the smell of jet fuel, her children needed ear protection in their own garden, and her pets were cowering in fear. She concluded her post demanding the end of the air show, under the grounds of empathy for newcomers from war-torn countries.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian immigrants Anita Presnyak and Anton Babych, who are perched near the CNE site, made it known that the show was a trigger for some of their war-experienced friends. The cacophony even sparks panic attacks and provoked anxiety in their small black dog, Pixel.
Despite the critique, the Air Show continues to carry its share of ardent admirers, especially among aviation buffs. To them, the roar of the fighter jets and the dynamic aerobatic performances are part of the show’s unique allure. The appearance of the United States Navy Blue Angels, renowned for their high energy and combination of formation and solo manoeuvres, was a particularly common thread of fascination among spectators.
As the diverging views echo amidst the fading jet noise, the future of the Canadian International Air Show hangs in balance between the nostalgia of a cherished tradition and the pressing need for consideration of its wider societal impact.