Sequester Could Impact Thunder Over the Valley

The Santa Maria Public Airport air traffic control tower is not among the more than 200 towers targeted for closure by the Federal Aviation Administration due to the $85 billion in automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration.

The F.A.A. released the list of airports that would be affected by the cuts last week and Wednesday updated it to include 238 across the country. Twenty-three towers in California are affected, but Santa Maria is not among them, according to General Manager Chris Hastert.

“The sequester, so far, has had a limited impact on us. The tower is not on the closure list. For Santa Maria, that was good news,” Hastert said. “Obviously there could be further cuts as they go down the list and start implementing things, but we got through the first round.”

Camarillo and Oxnard airports in Ventura County weren’t so lucky. They are the only airports in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties affected by the F.A.A. closures.  Hastert worked at both Ventura County airports and was deputy director over both facilities before moving to Santa Maria in 2008.

He said the closures will hit Camarillo hard.  “Camarillo is strictly general aviation and it’s only about 650 acres. Due to its proximity to Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, it’s very busy,” he said. “For Camarillo, it is a very big deal. It’s a very busy airport, especially on the weekends.”

Even though Santa Maria wasn’t affected by the tower closures, it could be impacted in other ways.  Hastert said the budget cuts could affect Santa Maria’s Thunder Over the Valley air show. He said F.A.A. inspectors are required to check out the show’s layout at the airport, the planes and the pilots, and the administration’s cuts could affect their availability.

Mike Geddry, President of the Santa Maria Museum of Flight, who organizes the show said military cuts could possibly spell doom for the show, which is scheduled for Aug. 24-25.

Budget cuts to the Air Force, Navy and Marines are already resulting in military air shows around the country being canceled. They include shows at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.; Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.; Langley Air Force Base, Va., Dover Air Force Base, Del.; and Corpus Christi Naval Air Station, Texas.

The Air Force’s Thunderbirds, based in Las Vegas, and the Golden Knights, from Fort Bragg, N.C., have canceled their schedules beginning April 1. The Navy’s Blue Angels have canceled a number of shows, but haven’t yet wiped out their entire 2013 schedule.

According to the International Council of Air Shows, at least 150 shows each year count on military performers, including Thunder Over the Valley.

“As it stands right now, we’re rolling the dice like anybody going to Vegas right now,” Geddry said, adding he is fielding phone calls daily from pilots looking for work because of the cancellations.  Geddry said he would love to help them out, but the show can’t afford to hire them. He said the acts are very expensive and his show paid $18,000 for performers last year.

Thunder Over the Valley annually pays tribute to military pilots and Geddry said he just received notice Wednesday that the Navy and Marine pilots would continue their air show schedules. He said he was more worried about how the cuts would affect military pilot training.

“I’m really concerned about how it’s going to affect our military because that’s what our show is about, is supporting our military. The last thing we need to do is cut is our training and our troops,” he said.

Geddry plans to go to the district Board of Directors meeting today — 7:00 p.m. in the airport’s administration building — to ask for a pledge of support for this year’s show.  The board annually provides financial support to the show.

“I’m going to ask not for check, but a pledge if we go forward with it to support that,” he said. “I really don’t know how this is going to affect us.  If we don’t get the military support, we won’t do it.”

3/14/13   By Brian Bullock / Staff Writer /