May 17, 2013

Budget cuts cast cloud over future of air shows

An industry group says air shows pump about $1.5 billion into the national economy, but without the military flyings acts, the shows don't go on.

By David Sharp / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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The U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform at the Great State of Maine Air Show in Brunswick in 2011.

2011 Associated Press File Photo / Pat Wellenbach

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Patty Wagstaff, considered by many of her peers to be one of the best aerobatic pilots in the world, stands near the tail of her plane, an Extra 300S, during a break at an airshow in 1999.

1999 Associated Press File Photo

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Not all air shows are being canceled. And many in the air show business will do fine this summer.

Tucker, who's performing over Memorial Day weekend at the Jones Beach Air Show in New York, said corporate sponsors are trying to line up smaller events to fill his schedule after eight of his 20 shows were canceled.

For others, it's a bigger deal.

In Tallahassee, Fla., Bob Anderson and his family operate a six-figure business selling T-shirts at air shows. Business was so good for his product line that focused almost exclusively on the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds that he upgraded to a motor home for his seasonal business travel.

Instead, the motor home is parked, and he's installing floors.

"People are very bitter now," he said. "I'm very saddened by everything that's going on because we've worked hard to get to where we are, and we've been shut down by no fault of our own."

Air show announcer Rob Reider, of Cincinnati, lost half his season, which is his primary source of income. "Am I angry? Yes, because it's hurting me," he said. "If something doesn't brighten up by the end of this year, I'll be looking to do other things and air shows will become a backburner business."

The losses carry on down the line to the concessionaires who feed spectators, vendors who provide hundreds of portable toilets, rental car companies that supply vehicles, hotels that house pilots and crews, and providers of aviation fuel.

In Brunswick, the canceled Great State of Maine Air Show had a budget of about $750,000. Last year's show paid out $31,000 for motel rooms for Air Force Thunderbirds team alone.

"It's a little issue on a national level, but it's a big issue locally. It's a big weekend for us," said Steve Levesque, executive director of the agency that organizes the show. "A lot of people were angry that we shut it down, but we didn't have any other choice."

For Reider and the pilots like Tucker and Wagstaff, the air shows cancellations mean losses that aren't easily calculated.

The shows tend to inspire young people, serve as a demonstration and recruiting tool for the military, and provide wholesome entertainment for families, they said.

"The metaphor of flight is about pushing boundaries; that's what we do as Americans," Tucker said. "It really disappoints me that because of politics, opportunities to be patriotic have been lost to millions and millions of people. What's the price of that?"

 

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Additional Photos

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In this July 16, 2009 file photo, Patty Wagstaff, top, and Sean D. Tucker fly over the National Museum of the United States Air Force and the National Aviation Hall of Fame, in Dayton, Ohio. Federal budget cuts that eliminated military flying acts triggered the cancellation of dozens of air shows, causing lost income for performers like Wagstaff, along with air show announcers, concessionaires, vendors and others who depend on air shows and the millions of spectators. (AP Photo/The Dayton Daily News, Ty Greenlees, File)

  


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