Thunderbirds' planned Myrtle Beach appearance may be grounded by sequestration

The Myrtle Beach Sun NewsFebruary 26, 2013 

If federal lawmakers are unable to reach a deal by Friday and forced across-the-board spending cuts occur, the U.S. Air Force could ground all of its flyover events – including a Thunderbirds aerobatics show planned in Myrtle Beach this June.

Lawmakers have until Friday to put a plan to avoid the automatic budget cuts known as “sequestration,” a provision in budget law that would trigger spending cuts. If those cuts go into place, events by the Thunderbirds and all other flyover events could be canceled beginning April 1, according to Wendy Varhegyi, chief of the engagement division for Air Force public affairs.

“We have not yet made a final public decision,” she said. “If sequestration goes into effect 1 March, we will suspend [all flyovers] as of 1 April. We would effectively cancel the rest of the season – through November.”

Announced in a press conference less than two weeks ago, the Thunderbirds show is to be the centerpiece of a weekend of celebration that would include a number of air teams, music by the U.S. Army Band, vendors and presentations.

The Thunderbirds air show is scheduled to take place from June 28 through June 30 as part of Myrtle Beach’s 75 birthday.

Varhegyi said if lawmakers are able to agree on an alternative soon after their Friday deadline, the season could be salvaged. She said the amount of time it took Congress to reach a solution would determine how soon the pilots could fly again.

“How long the team has sat determines the recertification they need,” she said, adding that the pilots may need a refresher on their training.

Varhegyi said the Air Force is hopeful that sequestration can be avoided and acknowledged that any resolution still could include spending cuts.

“We will end up having a smaller budget regardless, it’s just a question of how small,” she said.

City spokesman Mark Kruea said he was confident the federal government would be able to avoid the across-the-board cuts.

“Surely the smart people we’ve elected in Washington will find a solution to all of this,” he said.

All of the entities involved in planning the air show are still planning to hold the event in June while keeping watch on everything going on in Washington, D.C., said Amie Lee, president of Palmetto Event Productions Inc., which is coordinating the event.

“At this time we’re just planning as we’ve been doing for the last several months,” she said. “We’re being mindful of the situation but it’s not stopping us from anything that we’re planning.”

It would be the first time the city has had an air show since 2006. Both Mayor John Rhodes and George Cline of Air Boss Inc., a Greensboro, N.C.-based company that is producing the event, said they hoped the air show could become an annual attraction.

The event is expected to bring large crowds – in addition to typical summer visitors – who specifically come to town to view the air show.

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