Update on Sequestration and the Air Show Industry

February 11th, 2013

By now, most ICAS members in the U.S. have seen news items like this and this reporting that the Blue Angels’ 2013 air show season may be in jeopardy if the federal government does not take action to avoid mandatory budget cuts. If these cuts are allowed to be made, they will impact not just the Blue Angels, but all aspects of the U.S. military’s involvement in air shows.

The road to possible sequestration cuts has been a long and complicated one. These cuts may have a significant impact on the entire U.S. air show community, so it’s important that ICAS members familiarize themselves with the evolution and newest developments in this crisis. This article in Slate.com, a politics- and commentary-oriented website, provides just such an overview (along with a bit of commentary). This article in Politico.com, a politically oriented newspaper and website, reveals why additional extensions to the sequestration deadline are not likely to avoid short-term budgetary pressure on the Pentagon and, by extension, the impact of that pressure on the U.S. air show community. USA Today published this article outlining in general terms the military’s likely approach to sequestration cost-cutting tactics. This article from a Florida news website explains how even the congressman who represents Pensacola, the home of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, is suggesting that the Blue Angels may become a victim of indiscriminate budgetary cuts…cuts that were originally approved precisely because they would be so impractical and unappealing that they would prompt elected representatives to reach a compromise on the difficult issues related to deficit reduction.

Currently, all four branches of the U.S. military remain hopeful that sequestration-related budget cuts will be avoided between now and the March 1 deadline. Indeed, most are proceeding as though the air show season will continue as planned; just this week, U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command released the 2013 performance schedule for the F-22 Raptor. But, as has been reported extensively in the media, the military’s senior leadership is also making contingency plans in the event politicians do not reach some agreement. Three weeks ago, ICAS provided some details on those contingency plans for the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy. Those plans are explained in this January 14 memo from the Air Force Vice Chief of Staff and the Acting Secretary of the Air Force, and in this memo from the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Budget. In each case, those plans call for massive restructuring and emergency cost-cutting steps, including a reduction in non-essential flying.

More recently, as the March 1 deadline for implementation of the cuts approaches without a political solution in sight, military leaders have begun releasing even more detailed instructions on how the budgetary cuts will be accommodated with the least possible impact on the country’s ability to provide for national defense. If no compromise is reached by March 1 and sequestration cuts are implemented, the four service branches will institute a hiring freeze and begin furloughing civilian defense employees. They will eliminate all non-essential travel. They will suspend many defense contracts. And they will delay a large number of construction and maintenance projects.

As it relates to air show activity specifically, the current plan is to continue air show training and participation through March 31 and then end it on April 1. This would include suspending performances by the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, as well as single-ship demo performances, static display participation, and previously scheduled air shows and open houses at military bases. If the sequestration-mandated cuts are subsequently restored, some of the air show activity – like the training and performances of the two U.S. military jet teams – may resume, following a period of retraining. As an example, a jet team that did not train for three months might require two or three weeks of practice before it can resume its performance schedule. It is not clear right now if military air shows and open houses will be held on the dates for which they were originally scheduled. It is also not clear what the impact of deficit reduction initiatives will be on the military’s involvement in air shows even if sequestration-related budget cuts are avoided.