Beaufort Air Show canceled due to federal budget cuts

cconley@islandpacket.comMarch 22, 2013 

For the second time in seven years, the Beaufort Air Show has been canceled, a casualty of federal budget cuts.

Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort announced Thursday that the biennial event has been called off because of the possible impact from the $85-billion, forced federal budget cuts known as sequestration.

“Headquarters Marine Corps made the decision to cancel the air show in order to minimize the fiscal impact on vital programs, operational readiness and mission capabilities possibly affected by sequestration,” base officials said in a news release.

No future air show dates have been set.

The two-day event features civilian stunt pilots, historical and experimental aircraft, and other attractions. The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team, which perform acrobatic and stunt maneuvers in F-18 Hornet jets, is typically a top draw.

The news, although disappointing, was not unexpected, according to local officials. Earlier this month, a spokeswoman for the Blue Angels said she expected the elite squadron would cancel its appearance at the show because of sequestration.

And last week, Myrtle Beach announced its annual air show would be postponed because its usual headliner, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, were grounded after Congress failed to reach an agreement to stem automatic budget cuts.

“A surprise? No, I don’t think so,” Col. John Payne said Thursday.

Payne is the former air station commander and current chairman of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce's Military Enhancement Committee, a group working to protect Beaufort County’s three military installations.

“They said they were going to cut all non-essential items from the military budget, and this is not absolutely combat essential,” he added.

Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said he, too, was bracing for the announcement.

“It’s not the end of the world, but it’s a disappointment, of course,” he said. “It’s one of the luxuries we love to have, but on the other hand, when we’re all of a sudden faced with having to make cuts, are you going to cut a community party or are you going to cut a basic core (military) purpose?”

Although the show is free to attend, its costs are offset by sponsorships and premium ticket sales. Air show coordinator Ivey Liipfertcq said a ticket-processing company has already issued refunds for the 1,000 tickets already sold.

“The air show certainly has a huge financial impact on our business community and local economy,” said Beaufort chamber president Blakely Williams. “Visitors who come to the air show not only stay in our hotels, but they eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores.”

The chamber said 102,000 people attended the last air show, in 2011. A survey conducted at the time by University of South Carolina Beaufort found 35 percent of attendees traveled more than 50 miles for the show, and stayed for an average 3.7 days. Some 77 percent of those surveyed said the event was their main reason for visiting.

If nothing else, Payne and other Beaufort officials believe the show’s cancellation will serve as a reminder that the sequester cuts will trickle down to the local level.

The air show was last canceled in 2006 when the Blue Angels did not include Beaufort in its annual schedule. The show returned in 2007 and has been held every two years since.

Attempts Thursday to reach a base spokesman for additional comment on the action were unsuccessful.

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