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Blue Angels’ return to Maine, Brunswick air show threatened by fiscal cliff

Jose Carlos Fajardo | MCT
Jose Carlos Fajardo | MCT
The Blue Angels perform during Fleet Week in San Francisco, California, Saturday, October 6, 2012.
By Darcie Moore, Times Record

BRUNSWICK, Maine — The Blue Angels air show could be canceled as the U.S. Navy prepares for an additional $4 billion in pending “fiscal cliff” cuts.

With a new deadline looming in March, the Navy is proposing to cancel Blue Angels shows in the second half of 2013 to save $20 million, according to a Navy document that lays out a range of potential cuts.

If Congress can’t reach a deal by the new March deadline to avoid a package of tax increases and spending cuts, the Blue Angels show scheduled Sept. 14-15 in Brunswick would be canceled along with a dozen other similar shows planned nationwide.

Right now, organizers of the Brunswick air show say they’ve been told to continue preparing for this year’s show.

The Navy Office of Information provided The Times Record with an eight-page informational sheet intended to inform the fleet of potential budget impacts.

Proposed “Tier B” cuts are measures that are planned but that the Navy hopes will not need to be implemented if a resolution is in place prior to March 1, a Navy official told The Times Record Thursday.

Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, said his agency is closely monitoring the situation but “we’ve been notified the schedule is still on as planned.”

“We have been in touch with the Blue Angels, and those decisions haven’t been made yet” regarding potential cancellation, Levesque said.

Should the Navy decide it won’t continue the air shows, “we’ll have to evaluate whether we’ll have an air show or not,” he said.

The spectacle draws many performers, but the Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are the biggest draw. The Navy’s Blue Angels aerobatics team had performed in air shows at Brunswick Naval Air Station for four decades, drawing as many as 200,000 people to the free events before the station closed on May 30, 2011.

Three months later, the Blue Angels performed in the 2011 Great State of Maine Air Show at Brunswick Executive Airport, drawing about 25,000 attendees. For the first time, a gate fee was charged, since the Navy was no longer sponsoring the shows or providing the manpower to do it.

The second day of the 2011 weekend show was canceled because of weather. Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority announced later that year that, due mostly to an insurance policy covering event cancellations in case of weather, the show netted just more than $90,000 — $70,000 of which was donated to local nonprofit groups.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds were the feature of the 2012 air show in late August, drawing more than 40,000. Levesque said Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority was able to provide around $40,000 to charitable organizations, either through grants it offers from parking proceeds from the show or through opportunities for groups to work at the show and make money from concessions.

“We also rented 650 hotel rooms,” Levesque said, noting local restaurants and gas stations also experience an economic impact from the show.

While the last air show didn’t do as well as hoped for, the show is about more than money, Levesque said.

“We’re generating activity for the community and revenue for charitable organizations,” he said. “Our goal is to break even and maybe even make a little.”

The Blue Angels, which schedule two years in advance, are not scheduled to perform in Brunswick in 2014.

Levesque said MRRA will probably not organize an air show in 2014 and instead may put on a show every other year, as had been done historically.

The uncertainty about the Brunswick air show comes as the Navy battles to save core resources for the nation’s military preparedness.

In a prepared statement sent Thursday to The Times Record, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Navy’s chief of information, said, “The threat of an extended period of [budget negotiation], plus the cuts required by sequestration, would fundamentally alter the Navy’s ability to fight, train and maintain our ships, aircraft and other critical equipment. And it certainly makes us less capable of doing that which the nation expects of us.”

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