Valdosta Daily Times

Top News

March 11, 2013

Budget cuts force military jets to drop air shows

SAVANNAH — Even a rural festival celebrating the harvest of Georgia’s famous sweet onions isn’t safe from the federal budget battle 600 miles away, as automatic cuts are threatening to take away the star attraction for the Vidalia Onion Festival’s popular air show: the Navy’s daredevil fighter pilots, the Blue Angels.

The $85 billion in automatic budget cuts that took effect March 1 have thrown planning for the festival’s air show into a tailspin, just weeks before the April 20 event that officials agreed to hold a week earlier than usual so they could book the vaunted group. The Navy plans to cancel Blue Angels shows booked next month in Vidalia and three other cities. And there is a good chance dozens more air shows across the U.S. could get the ax as well, leaving host cities facing threats of lost tourism revenue and dwindling ticket sales.

“It’s going to hurt us,” said Marsha Temples, chief organizer of the Vidalia air show, who estimates past festival weekends have drawn 15,000 extra people when the Blue Angels were on the bill. “People like to see the Blues because they put on an absolutely phenomenal show. You have people who actually follow them and a lot of people come from out of town just to see them.”

While the Blue Angels’ spring schedule is in doubt, the Air Force’s formation-flying Thunderbirds and the Army’s Golden Knights skydivers have canceled their performances outright. Combined, the three teams had booked more than 190 performances between the spring and fall. That’s left many air show organizers scrambling to find replacements, such as civilian pilots with loud, fast jets from the Vietnam era or vintage planes from World War II. The uncertainty has forced others to simply cancel altogether.

John Cudahy, president of the Virginia-based International Council of Air Shows, said at least 150 U.S. air shows each year count on military performers to draw big crowds. A group like the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds can account for 10 to 30 percent of attendance — in some cases enough to determine if a show makes or loses money.

Canceled appearances don’t just mean fewer dollars spent on tickets, souvenirs and concessions. They also mean fewer fans traveling to shows out of town and spending on hotels, restaurants and gas.

“If the military does not participate in air shows during the 2013 season, the economic impact will reach far beyond the show itself and deeply into the communities in which those shows are held,” Cudahy said.

Several air shows hosted by military bases, which show off their flashiest planes for publicity and as a recruitment tool, were canceled almost immediately. They include shows at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.; Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.; Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.; Langley Air Force Base, Va.; Dover Air Force Base, Del.; and Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas.

Businesses and community boosters at Pensacola Beach, Fla. — where the Blue Angels are stationed — are already trying to avert possible cancellation of the team’s July show that’s become one of the city’s biggest tourism bonanzas. An economic impact study last year estimated the Pensacola air show lured more than 15,000 visitors in addition to the normal July weekend beach crowd of about 109,000.

Buck Lee, chairman of the Santa Rosa Island Authority that oversees Pensacola Beach, said business owners and sponsors are offering to donate $100,000 or more to pay for jet fuel and other costs if that means the Blue Angels will commit to flying.

“We have a restaurant that just opened that contacted me and said, ‘We’re in for $10,000 if you need it,”’ Lee said. “It’s a $2 million weekend for the area. That’s for hotels, employees, restaurants, souvenirs. It’s just a great three days out here.”

While the Las Vegas-based Thunderbirds and the Golden Knights from Fort Bragg, N.C., have outright canceled their schedules beginning April 1, the Blue Angels have hedged. The team has continued training in California for upcoming March shows in El Centro, Calif., and Key West, Fla. On Monday, the team updated its Facebook page with a statement saying the Navy “intends to cancel” the Blue Angels’ April performances.

Air show organizers said the Blue Angels have been unable to tell them if they will perform or not. A spokeswoman for the Navy jet team, Lt. Katie Kelly, said the Blue Angels are waiting until the last minute in the hope something will change.

Private organizers of big air shows in Dayton, Ohio, and Louisville, Ky., have vowed to continue even if military pilots are no-shows. Others have folded their tents for 2013. The Thunder Over the Blue Ridge air show scheduled for May 11-12 in Martinsburg, W.Va., was canceled after the Air Force’s Thunderbirds announced they had been grounded.

Organizers of the Indianapolis Air Show also decided to pull the plug despite the Blue Angels holding out hope they might be able to fly in the show Father’s Day weekend. The air show’s chairman, Robert Duncan, said a $10,000 sponsor pulled out as soon as the president and Congress failed to avert the budget cuts. If the Blue Angels canceled, organizers expected the show to lose 25 percent or more of its audience. Duncan said that kind of financial blow would likely leave the show unable to cover expenses.

“They weren’t committing to anything other than to say, ‘We will continue to practice and fly,”’ Duncan said of the Blue Angels.

The Indianapolis show, which has raised $1.3 million for charity in its 15-year history, attracted more than 65,000 spectators last year when the Thunderbirds performed.

On the South Carolina coast, the April 27-28 air show hosted by Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort remains on track — at least for now. Chief organizer Ivey Liipfert said “there’s still some time to hold out hope.”

More than 100,000 spectators swarm into Beaufort, a city of 12,400, for the air show. Surveys indicate more than a third of the crowd travels more than 50 miles to see it, and many spectators stay for more than three days. Liipfert said without the Blue Angels, it’s possible the show would be canceled.

John Rembold, a board member of the local Chamber of Commerce, said that will definitely deprive hotels and other business of tourism dollars. It would serve as an unavoidable civics lesson, however.

“If folks have not been paying attention to the dire budget problems our nation faces,” Rembolt said, “this might be a little bit of cold water in the face.”

1
Text Only
Top News
  • Economy College Gradu_Stew.jpg Job market for college grads better but still weak

    With college commencement ceremonies nearing, the government is offering a modest dose of good news for graduating seniors: The job market is brightening for new grads — a bit.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Supreme Court TV On t_Stew.jpg Internet TV case: Justices skeptical, concerned

    Grappling with fast-changing technology, Supreme Court justices debated Tuesday whether they can protect the copyrights of TV broadcasters to the shows they send out without strangling innovations in the use of the internet.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Today in History

    In 1791, the 15th president of the United States, James Buchanan, was born in Franklin County, Pa.

    April 23, 2014

  • Stowaway teen forces review of airport security

    A 15-year-old boy found his way onto an airport’s tarmac and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation’s airline fleet.

    April 22, 2014

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Death count in ferry sinking tops 100

    One by one, coast guard officers carried the newly arrived bodies covered in white sheets from a boat to a tent on the dock of this island, the first step in identifying a sharply rising number of corpses from a South Korean ferry that sank nearly a week ago.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP520422034 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 22, the 112th day of 2014. There are 253 days left in the year.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Commission to vote to purchase new computers

    Lowndes County commissioners discussed replacing outdated computers, a bid for an emergency bypass pump, an annexation request from the City of Hahira, a juvenile justice grant application, and an appointment to the dangerous dog board.

    April 22, 2014

  • KLVB receives Governor’s Circle Recognition Award

    Keep Lowndes/Valdosta Beautiful received the Governor’s Circle Award. These inaugural, statewide awards were presented by Gov. Nathan Deal at the State Capitol .

    April 22, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum reviews ‘The Art Forger’

     “Fascinating” is the word to describe the world of art forgery as revealed by guest reviewer Laura Hughes to Readers’ Forum.

    April 22, 2014

  • Immigration _Rich copy.jpg DHS secretary re-evaluating deportation priorities

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday he’s re-evaluating the Obama administration’s deportation priorities to make certain they’re focused on national security, public safety and border security, amid growing pressure from the Latino community and President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats. 

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results