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Blue Angels grounded because of federal cuts

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The U.S. Air Force plans to ground about a third of its active-duty force of combat planes and the U.S. Navy cancelled the rest of the popular Blue Angels' aerobatic team's season because of automatic federal budget cuts.

(Photo: Jamie Scott)

The Air Force didn't immediately release a list of the specific units and bases that would be affected on Tuesday, but it said it would cover fighters, bombers and airborne warning and control aircraft in U.S., Europe and the Pacific.

A top Air Force leader said the branch would focus its budget and resources on units supporting major missions, like the war in Afghanistan, while other units stand down on a rotating basis.

"The current situation means we're accepting the risk that combat airpower may not be ready to respond immediately to new contingencies as they occur," Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, said in a statement.

As news trickled out that the Navy had cancelled the remainder of Blue Angels' season, business owners and residents of the coastal enclave where the team is based expressed resignation and disappointment.

"I just think it's sad that there are political games being played. I doubt the Blue Angels are even half of 1 percent of the entire Navy budget," said Lloyd Proctor, co-owner of Blue Angel Hot Tubs in Pensacola. Proctor and his wife named their business after the team 10 years ago.

When the Blue Angels take to the skies, their fans flock to Annapolis. The performances here draw huge crowds. Barney Parrella has taken in the show for decades.

“I think that is very unfortunate it's the highlight of the event,” Parrella says.

Some here are angry with Congress for not working out a budget deal to keep the angels aloft.

“I think they should take a cut in pay and let the Blue Angel fly,” says Annapolis resident Gale Noguera.

But even here some believe the government needs to save money wherever it can.

“I would rather have them cut back on defense spending than any type of domestic spending,” says Annapolis resident Bob Harwood.

A spokesman for the Navy said team members would be allowed to fly minimal hours to maintain flight proficiency in the F/A 18 fighter jets, but the six-jet squadron would discontinue group practices for the remainder of the season.

The Air Force says, on average, aircrews 'lose currency' to fly combat commissions within 90 to 120 days of not flying and that it generally takes 60 to 90 days to conduct the training needed to return aircrews to mission-ready status.

Returning grounded units to mission ready status will require additional funds beyond Air Combat Command's normal budget, according to Air Force Officials.

"Even a six-month stand down of units will have significant long-term, multi-year impacts on our operational readiness," Air Combat Command spokesman Maj. Brandon Lingle said in an email to The Associated Press.

For affected units, the Air Force says it will shift its focus to ground training.

That includes the use of flight simulators and academic training to maintain basic skills and aircraft knowledge, Lingle said. Aircraft maintainers plan to clear up as much of a backlog of scheduled inspections and maintenance that budgets allow.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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