Thunder Over the Valley Canceled

Officials Cite Lack of Funding

The 2013 Thunder Over the Valley Air Show has been canceled, a victim of federal budget cuts and, to an extent, its own success, its organizer said Monday.

Mike Geddry Sr., chief executive officer for the Santa Maria Museum of Flight, said he was “devastated” by the decision, but that not enough money could be raised this year for the event.  “The cancellation of the show was like leaving a wounded brother or sister on the home front battlefield,” Geddry said in a letter explaining the decision.

This would have marked the 26th year of the show, said Geddry, who is also the museum’s event organizer.   The show was scheduled for late August and attracts about 8,000 visitors a year region-wide.

The future of this year’s show was up in the air ever since the federal government failed to stop midyear budget cuts, which have seriously curtailed operations of the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Armed Forces.  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 at the shows.

“With the sequestration, it remains to be seen if we can get the military aircraft here for display and demonstrations,” Airport General Manager Chris Hastert said in March, adding the FAA also plays an important role in preparing airports for shows.

In his letter, Geddry said more than 80 civilian air shows with military demonstration teams or military aircraft static displays have been canceled.

Despite the odds, Geddry said, supporters were determined not to give up without a fight.  They aimed to put together an event with at least three or more warbird acts at a cost of more than $40,000.

It had $15,000 provided by the Santa Maria Public Airport, but after going to the show’s 30 sponsors, Geddry said organizers could only raise another $12,000.  “With the economy being the way it is, I understand,” he said.

 The Museum’s Board of Directors had given organizers until June 30 to raise the money.  When they fell short, the museum’s board decided to cancel the show, he said.

But Geddry said the show was also a victim of its own success. It seemed to really take off in 2005 and made a $20,000 profit, he said.  But as it became more popular, the show needed to draw bigger and better acts each year, he said.  “It was like Pandora’s box had been opened,” he said.

The 2012 show was the biggest yet, including a simulated dog fight between two World War II vintage planes. The event also included a demonstration by an MV-22 Osprey, which takes off and lands like a helicopter, but then can convert to a turboprop airplane capable of high-speed, high-altitude flight.

Geddry said he believes, though, that the show will take flight again in 2014. He said the economy seems to be improving, and the Santa Maria Valley has a long history of supporting the military that makes Thunder Over the Valley “more than just another air show.”  “It means a lot to people here,” he said.

Dave Cross, director of the Santa Maria Economic Development Commission, said the event will be missed. It fills hotels rooms and restaurants throughout the area, bringing much-needed revenue to local cities, he said. The exact financial impact is hard to determine, he said, but “we have to carry on with our other events. People come a long way for that event. It’s unfortunate.”

7/23/13  Niki Cervantes / ncervantes@santamariatimes.com

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