The troupe that contains some of the Navy’s finest fliers will be spending less time in the air and more time grounded for the next six to seven months, thanks to Washington’s budget fight.
The flight demonstration team canceled all shows for the rest of the 2013 season Tuesday morning, citing sequester cuts.
On the same day, the U.S. Air Force announced it was grounding about one-third of its combat command — cutting about 45,000 flying hours from training time — which Air Combat Command Cmdr. Gen. Mike Hostage said could hurt readiness in an emergency situation.
Both cuts come after a slew of warnings from military leaders on the hardships sequestration has imposed on their branches.
The Navy had warned at the onset of sequestration that budget cuts could mean the end of the Blue Angels’ performances, at least temporarily. Now the team has been relegated to its home base in Pensacola, Fla., for the remainder of the season – until October or November, according to Blue Angels Cmdr. Tom Frosch.
The cancellation comes as part of a new Defense Department policy that forbids it from using government money to fund outreach events.
Private funding for individual shows is not an option, because the reduced training time will mean the pilots are not at the top of their game.
Frosch said the team of trained fliers was disappointed by the news.
“We’ve put a lot of effort into this, into learning the demonstration,” he told reporters in Pensacola. “But they understand that this is just one of many steps to focus efforts to the deployed forces and those who are leading them.”
The Blue Angels normally star in air shows across the country, driving recruitment efforts for the Navy and Marines. Frosch said those efforts won’t stop, but they would involve a change in venue.
The Blue Angels will continue to practice but at a level that is “quite a bit less than we normally fly,” Frosch said. They’ll go from flying as much as three times daily to about once or twice a week. “Our hope is that we get turned on for the 2014 season and get back up – full up to speed and have a great season next year.”
The Air Force’s demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, also canceled its 2013 show season because of sequester cuts.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel pledged last week to return part of his sequester-exempt salary in a show of solidarity with furloughed civilian employees over the coming months.