International Aerobatic Club President Michael Heuer had some reasonably obvious choices to nominate for aerobatic competition in the 2015 FAI World Air Games. Only one pilot from any country would be allowed in each category (powered and glider), and Rob Holland, the reigning national champion (and four-time winner), and reigning world freestyle champion (also a two-time winner), was naturally at the top of the list.
“He is a very, very strong pilot,” Heuer said. “I think he’ll do exceptionally well there.”
The games are being organized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, which has international jurisdiction over aviation records and competition of various kinds, and aerobatics are just one of many events planned for venues in and around Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in December. Each participating country has one or more national organizations to which FAI delegates sanctioning and oversight of various sports. In the United States, the National Aeronautic Association oversees competition and records, delegating to various organizations, including the International Aerobatic Club, organization and oversight of specific sports. So it fell to Heuer, as IAC president and an international delegate, to submit two names, with Holland nominated (and since accepted) as the U.S. pilot flying in power competition.
“I’m very honored and humbled to be selected to represent the United States at the 2015 World Air Games,” Holland said. “It will be both challenging and fun to compete with the best aerobatic pilots in the world."
Heuer said there are far fewer U.S. glider pilots who compete with the world’s elite, and Eric Lentz-Gauthier (who teaches glider aerobatics in California and flies in world competition) accepted the nomination, and the challenge, and was subsequently accepted by international organizers.
“He was our man,” Heuer said.
The FAI World Air Games were first held in 1997, with subsequent editions in 2001 and 2009. In essence they are an aviation Olympiad, with 11 air sports and 24 disciplines covering a range from aerobatics to parachuting, paragliding, and helicopter events. Model airplanes also will compete in various disciplines including aerobatics and pylon racing.
“The FAI World Air Games is an absolutely unique chance to show how exciting, interesting and beautiful our air sports are,” said FAI Sport and Marketing Director Markus Haggeney, in a news release. “This is why it is crucial to have as many sports as possible included in the programme."
There will be at least one significant gap in American participation in the 2015 World Air Games: No U.S. general aviation pilots or navigators will participate in the air navigation race or landing accuracy events. Art Greenfield, NAA director of contests and records, said the NAA “does not hold those types of national championships.” National championships, or rankings based on sanctioned events, are the primary basis of selection for World Air Games participation by the various sporting organizations.
Jean-Pierre Delmas, president of the FAI General Aviation Commission, said in an email that U.S. pilots won the World Precision Flying Championships in 1985 and 1996, but no American pilot or navigator took part in more recent competitions in Europe and South Africa.
Delmas said the FAI General Aviation Commission set up a new “advanced” category in rally flying competition three years ago, a less rigorous standard than the "unlimited" category that makes competition more accessible to pilots, and nations, with limited experience. This new category, he said, has succeeded in attracting new participants and countries.
“I hope this could encourage (U.S.) pilots to join again,” Delmas wrote. “GAC is committed to provide advice or assistance on request, for developing GA competitions.”
The FAI intends the event to be a spectacle, with plans to televise events and care being taken to make each event crowd-friendly, and pleasing. The goals include showcasing air sports to the general public, and attracting new participants, according to the latest news release.