An airshow marketed as the biggest free event of its type is to introduce charging.

Airbourne, Eastbourne's annual air show, is to charge thousands of visitors a day up to £5 for the privilege of watching the spectacle from within a fenced off area stretching from the Beachy Head side of Eastbourne Pier to the end of the Western Lawns.

Stretches of Grand Parade and King Edwards Parade between Silverdale Road and the top of Cavendish Place will also be closed off to traffic.

But residents are furious at the decision to charge people to stand on their own seafront - which could net Eastbourne Borough Council £1.1million between August 14 and 17.

The enclosure will cater for 55,000 people, all paying £5 for the privilege, or £2.50 if they take advantage of two-for-one deals.

Almost 1,000 people have joined an online petition group on social networking website Facebook. The group, entitled "Airbourne Eastbourne - I'm not paying to stand on my own seafront!" gained more than 150 new members in the hours after the decision to charge was made public.

Shirley Moth from Eastbourne created the group and said: "We were amazed that the council has actually decided to charge in a cordoned off area of the seafront that is much larger than we anticipated.

"We are all ratepayers and we will not have access to our own seafront. We have a beautiful seafront which is going to be fenced off for four days - it's not a good advert for Eastbourne at all.

"We are all fans of Airbourne, but believe that the council has acted without taking into account the very basic fact that a promenade is for walking on without charge."

Ms Moth's group plans to gain access to the beaches in the cordoned off area via the sea in a D-Day style mass dinghy landing with fellow objectors - taking advantage of a loophole in the law meaning the council has no control of the shoreline at low tide.

The group has also designed campaign badges and t-shirts.

Eastbourne resident Dave Cornwell suggested boycotting the event. He said: "Residents will not pay so hopefully numbers will fall and if profits are well down on their expected takings for the event, then maybe they'll have a rethink.

"Let's vote with our feet and boycott the event - it's not just the visitors who attend this event but many of us residents also."

Councillors hope the charging policy will turn around a £72,000 shortfall from last year's event to a profit which can be ploughed into tourism projects in the future.

Projections show that if 190,000 tickets are sold over the four days, around £687,000 could be raised. After the cost of staging the event up to £500,000 profit could be ploughed back into new tourism initiatives for the town.

Unable to obtain sponsorship for last yearís airshow Eastbourne taxpayers had to contribute towards staging the event. No sponsor has been found this year either and the cost has been shifted to those attending the event.

In a pre-budget survey 65% of residents supported charging.

Council spokesman for tourism, councillor Steve Wallis said: "Airbourne is a world renowned event and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the globe. This is its 16th year and with the cost of securing top flying displays rising and becoming harder every year, a small admission charge is the best way to help us secure the long term future of this popular event.

"The fact that all income generated will be ring-fenced and pumped directly back into Eastbourne tourism is a huge incentive."