WASHINGTON — The Navy's daredevil Blue Angels and the Air Force's Thunderbirds will be back at air shows across the country through the coming year. But continued budget cuts mean the military won't participate in some 1,000 other community events.
The Pentagon plans to spend $129 million in the new budget year on community activities such as Navy port visits and military band, Blue Angels and Thunderbirds performances.
That's more than in recent months. Community programs were eliminated midyear due to so-called sequestration budget cuts. Because the military precision flying teams were the main draw at many air shows, dozens of shows were cancelled across the country.
But the money planned for the budget year that started Oct. 1 is still only 45 percent of the $233 million budgeted in 2012. It will mean the military can attend perhaps 1,000 to 1,500 events, compared to 2,800 in 2012, said Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban, a Defense Department spokesman.
"We are going to be doing most of the same things we did before but doing fewer of everything," he said Thursday. Restoring some of the money is a way to still do things that help the military connect with communities, while watching the budget at the same time, he said.
The spending plan is expected to save $1 billion over 10 years, Urban said.
Each individual service has put together a list of the things they want to participate in. Those have not been announced, but Andrews Air Force Base on Thursday said it is cancelling its May open house at the base, also known as the Andrews Airshow.
"We will miss the interaction that (it) allowed us to have with our friends in the community, but this decision will save more than $2 million in tax dollars," said Col. Bill Knight, commander of the Air Force's 11th Wing and Joint Base Andrews.
John Cudahy, president of the International Council of Air Shows, said his group is still waiting to hear more details about planned military activities for this year. He welcomed the announcement that the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds jet teams will return to their full schedules but said air shows also have long depended on other participation such as flyovers by F-16s or static displays, which means bringing a plane that stays on the ground for viewing by the public.
"We are cautiously optimistic. The return of the jet teams is a very good thing, but they represent a fraction of the military support" given to air shows in the past, he said.
There are usually some 300 airs shows in the states each year and the military used to fly in a third to half of them, Cudahy said, adding 62 were cancelled as a direct result of the mandatory budget cuts. Some of the shows that went ahead without military support saw a drop of up to 75 percent in attendance, he said.