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Published March 04 2013

Planning continues for Fargo AirSho despite Blue Angels’ murky future

FARGO – Fargo AirSho organizers are moving ahead with plans for the August show, despite uncertainty over whether federal budget cuts will ground its star act, the Navy’s Blue Angels.

AirSho committee co-chairman Mike Haugen said Monday he’d been in contact with a Blue Angels official who confirmed news reports that while the team’s four April shows have been canceled, the rest of this year’s shows remain up in the air.

“I think they’re just waiting to see what the fallout is going to be,” Haugen said of $85 billion in automatic budget cuts known as sequestration that took effect Friday. Fortunately, the timing of Fargo’s Aug. 10-11 event allows the AirSho committee to postpone a decision on whether to cancel the show until the Blue Angels announce their plans, Haugen said.

The AirSho already has paid booking fees to several non-military acts, and Haugen said that money would be lost if the Blue Angels back out and the committee cancels the show, which is being planned for an attendance of 30,000 people.

“It’s kind of tough to be in limbo like we are, but we felt we just had to go ahead, because we don’t want to hurt ticket sales,” he said. “We can always, I guess, put the word out when we need to that we’re going to cancel versus trying to get people back that have now planned to do something else for their summer vacations.”

An AirSho without the Blue Angels is a possibility, but Haugen noted that only one AirSho has been held without a major flying act, and it lost money.

“It’s a challenge, because the Blue Angels are a big draw,” AirSho co-chairman Dick Walstad said. “But it’s too early for us to decide that.”

Staging the biennial AirSho costs about $500,000, including a $12,000 fee paid to the Blue Angels this year, Haugen said.

Proceeds are donated to local nonprofits, including the Fargo Air Museum, which plans to open a 40,000-square-foot addition in conjunction with the show.

“We can’t run the risk of coming up a couple hundred thousand (dollars) short,” Haugen said.

In another move that will affect the AirSho, the U.S. Air Force announced Friday that in response to the budget cuts, it has canceled all aerial demonstration team performances past April 1. That includes shows featuring the military’s other marquee flying act, the Thunderbirds, which were slated to perform at more than 38 locations from March to November.

Haugen, a former North Dakota adjutant general, said the Air Force’s decision not only grounds flying acts such as the F-16 fighter jet, but also static displays such as training jets and refueling tankers that are popular with AirSho fans. The committee will have to try to find other draws to replace those, he said.

The Navy hasn’t announced similar plans to ground its demonstration aircraft. But Reuters quoted a Navy lieutenant last week as saying programs such as the Blue Angels – which, like the Thunderbirds, is primarily a recruiting tool – will take a back seat to making sure ships and planes are ready for war fighters overseas.

“If the Navy is going to do exactly like the Air Force, it’s going to be a tough year for air shows around the nation,” Haugen said.

Haugen noted that this year’s AirSho also is scheduled to pay tribute to two well-known North Dakota aviators and war bird pilots, Bob Odegaard, of Kindred, and Gerald Beck, of Wahpeton. Odegaard died in September when his World War II-era Super Corsair crashed during a practice run for an airshow in Valley City. Beck died in 2007 when his P-51 crashed at an airshow in Oshkosh, Wis.

The Air Museum’s new wing has been named for the two pilots.

Haugen and Walstad said they’re optimistic the budget crisis will be resolved and the AirSho will go on. They hope a decision can be made by May 1.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528