Military Aircraft may be Absent at Thunder Over The Valley

Thanks to federal budget cuts, the forecast for the 2013 Thunder Over the Valley Air Show looks partly cloudy with a chance of rain.

The Santa Maria Airport district Board of Directors will hear a report on the air show and the airport’s 10-year Capital Improvement Project’s list today when it meets at 7 p.m.  The airport board meets at the Administration Building, 3217 Terminal Drive.

The future of this year’s show has been up in the air ever since the federal government didn’t act to stop the midyear budget cuts, which have seriously curtailed operations of the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Armed Forces.  Airport General Manager Chris Hastert said those cuts have delivered a one-two punch to air shows all over the country.

FAA inspectors are required to approve airports, airplanes and pilots for air shows held throughout the country. At the same time, the military provides equipment and personnel for public outreach to the shows.

“With the sequestration, it remains to be seen if we can get the military aircraft here for display and demonstrations,” Hastert said, adding the FAA also plays an important role in preparing airports for shows. “Seeing how it’s in August, it could work out to our advantage.”

Sequestration has already caused the U.S. Navy to cancel seven of its 10 shows scheduled in April and May, while the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds have canceled all but one of its scheduled shows for the remainder of the year.

The military cutbacks have Mike Geddry, president of the Santa Maria Museum of Flight and organizer of Thunder Over the Valley, scratching his head about this year’s show. He said little has changed in the past few weeks.

“The Navy shut down for one month. I guess that involves the Marines, because they come out of the Department of the Navy. The Army, they always end up doing the same as everybody else,” Geddry said. “If I don’t get military, I’ll have to go with warbirds.”  Warbirds are restored military aircraft.

Geddry said he has been deluged with calls from aerobatic performers looking for work since many of the shows in April and May have been canceled.  How to pay the performers is Geddry’s dilemma.

“Even your warbird military acts are scrambling because of the military cuts,” he said. “We’re going to have to depend heavily on the community to support us this year, because the military looks like it’s out.”

The board also will be reviewing the airport’s Capital Improvement Projects schedule, which is a 10-year plan for construction projects.

Among them are design and rehabilitation of the terminal and hotel ramps, extension of several taxiways and rehabilitation of the main hangar apron.  “It’s really a fairly definite five-year plan that goes out 10 years,” said Hastert, adding the list has only FAA-funded projects. “The projects always stay the same, just the priorities change.”

3/28/13 •  By Brian Bullock / Staff Writer /