Federal budget cuts that eliminated military flying acts triggered the cancellation of dozens of air shows, meaning lost income for performers, air show announcers, concessionaires, vendors and others who depend on air shows and the millions of spectators.
All told, 64 air shows including the Great State of Maine Air Show that depended on military participation have canceled, accounting for a loss of nearly a third of air show revenue, and the figure could go as high as 100, said John Cudahy, executive director of the International Council of Air Shows.
The cancellations also mean disappointed fans, fewer events that celebrate aviation and inspire youngsters and lost military recruiting opportunities.
“This is as American as apple pie,” said Sean Tucker, a top aerobatic pilot, from Salinas, Calif., who will perform at the Vectren Dayton Air Show June 22-23. “It’s the Indianapolis 500, the Fourth of July, and ‘Top Gun’ rolled into one.”
Air shows pump about $1.5 billion into the economy and draw nearly three times more spectators than NASCAR events, according to the International Council of Air Shows.
And the biggest acts are the Navy Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds, the precision flying teams whose performances were abruptly canceled April 1, along with the Army skydiving team, military flyovers, demonstration flights and even static displays. The Thunderbirds were scheduled to perform at the Dayton air show.
The cancellations caused by automatic budget cuts known as sequestration sent ripples through the industry, because the jet teams anchor most shows in which they perform.
Without them, organizers of major air shows like Wings over Wayne at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina and Skyfest 2013 at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington state scheduled for this weekend, coincidentally on Armed Forces Day, opted to cancel.
Not everyone is bemoaning the loss of airshows this year. Critics like Bruce Gagnon say air shows pollute the environment, waste money and glorify war.
“It’s a recruiting gimmick — a very expensive recruiting gimmick, and we think it’s part of this, sadly, growing culture of militarism in our country,” said Gagnon, a peace activist from Bath who served in the Air Force in the Vietnam era.
Not all air shows are being canceled. And many in the air show business will do fine this summer.
Tucker said corporate sponsors are trying to line up smaller events to fill his schedule after eight of his 20 shows were canceled.