Air shows cancelled: Blue Angels, Thunderbirds grounded by sequester (+video)
Air shows cancelled: Automatic sequester budget cuts mean an end to the 2013 season for the Navy's Blue Angels and the Air Force's Thunderbirds. The real losers may be local economies benefitting from air shows.
Travelers across the US are pleased that furloughs for air traffic controllers have been cancelled. Aside from the usual delays for weather and maintenance problems, that means fewer hours trapped on the tarmac or looking for places to charge smart phones in airport terminals.
But thereâ€™s another group of frequent flyers whoâ€™ve been grounded by across-the-board budget cuts due to the sequester: Navy and Air Force flight demonstration teams, those aerial hotshots whose main purpose is to enhance public relations, attract new recruits, and reflect patriotism with whatâ€™s been bumper-stickered as â€śThe Sound of Freedom.â€ť
There are plenty of other air shows around the country, such as the â€śVidalia Onion Festival Air Showâ€ť in Georgia and the â€śTake to the Skies AirFestâ€ť in Durant, Okla. They just wonâ€™t feature the Air Force Thunderbirds or the Navy Blue Angels flying genuine fighter jets. Or the Armyâ€™s Golden Knights parachute team.
All three have cancelled their season.
John Cudahy. president of the International Council of Air Shows tells the Associated Press that about 200 of the nation's 300 air shows have been affected by the federal budget cuts and 60 have already been cancelled. He said more cancellations are expected, and some shows may never come back.
"The worst case is that they either cancel and go out of business, or they don't cancel and they have such poor attendance and they go out of business," he said. Economic impact studies indicate the shows are worth $1 billion to $2 billion nationwide, Cudahy estimates.
When the Thunderbirds performed there in 2010, the show drew 88,000 people. Without a jet team, the show typically draws 15,000 or fewer. When they learned thereâ€™d be no Thunderbirds, organizers cancelled this yearâ€™s show.
Thunderbirds spokesman Maj. Darrick Lee said a typical season averages about $9.75 million and the Air Force needs to focus its resources now on its mission in Afghanistan. Team members are still doing local public appearances that have little or no cost, including autograph-signing sessions at schools and other venues.
"Would we prefer to be flying? Of course," Maj. Lee said. But, he added, "We encourage folks to go and have a good time with or without us."