With looming federal budget cuts canceling airshows across the country, organizers of Atlantic City’s airshow say the show could lose some of its military acts but there are no plans to shut down the event.
“My instincts tell me we would not cancel the show,” Greater Atlantic City Chamber President Joe Kelly said. “Of course, we would go back to our stakeholders before any decision was made.”
Without congressional action, a series of severe automatic budget cuts negotiated as part of the debt ceiling crisis are scheduled to take effect Friday. Current plans by the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps call for those cuts to put an end to all non-essential flying, including air show performances, according to the International Council of Air Shows.
That would mean the grounding of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds — neither of which are scheduled to perform in Atlantic City this year. But the mandate could also extend to military flyby demonstrations, which organizers had expected to be a focal point of this year’s show.
To date, shows at Virginia’s Langley Air Force Base, Arizona’s Luke Air Force Base and North Carolina’s Seymour Johnson Air Force Base — all scheduled to take place between May and March — have been canceled. On Tuesday, the Indianapolis Air Show, an event sustained by private sponsorships similar to Atlantic City’s show, was also canceled.
“There’s a whole lot of balls in the air to juggle. The chamber, and our company, do not have any way at this time to handle how the balls are being juggled,” said airshow boss David Schultz, whose company coordinates Atlantic City’s show. “What we’ve expressed to Atlantic City at this point is to go with the wait-and-see mode.”
Atlantic City’s airshow is scheduled for June 26, and for the first time in its modern history it will not feature an appearance by a major jet team. The U.S. Army Golden Knights are scheduled to perform and have not given any notice of cancellation, officials said.
With Atlantic City already prepared for a different kind of show, Kelly said if military acts are unavailable, it could open up an opportunity to book more civilian demonstration teams. Last year’s show featured the Black Diamond Jet Team, a GEICO speedboat race and aerobatic acts by other private pilots.
“We work very hard, as do shows across the country, to have signature performers, but we don’t build the show on one act. We made that decision when the Thunderbirds schedule didn’t allow them to be here,” Kelly said. “Good businesses are flexible enough to adjust to what the environment offers.”
While that’s true, Schultz cautioned that more civilian performers could mean a more expensive show, requiring sufficient backing. Top military acts like the Thunderbirds cost $6,000 a day, but private acts can cost $20,000, he said.
A mid-week date also puts Atlantic City’s show in a unique position as nearby military squadrons such as the 177th Fighter Wing in Egg Harbor Township already conduct training during the week, and their flybys often double as training. That could potentially keep those acts in the show even if sequestration grounds other flights, Schultz said.
Kelly said the chamber will continue to monitor the situation, but has already thought about ways to diversify what’s seen in the show and the days surrounding it. Details, however, were few.
“I do think you’ll see creativity and trying not to just focus on the airshow,” Kelly said. “I think we need to create a very exciting week where the airshow is just one of many things going on.”
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