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Will budget sequester cuts hit popular Alaska air show?

John Cudahy, president of the International Council of Air Shows, said that about 200 of the nation's 300 air shows have been affected by the federal budget cuts and 60 have already been cancelled. He said more cancellations are expected, and some shows may never come back. Loren Holmes photo

The FAA furloughs have been canceled, allowing the American public a collective sigh of relief over anticipated airport delays, but the budget sequester continues, and the cuts have begun. And among the cuts is funding for the popular Air Force Thunderbirds, an integral part to air shows across the nation, including in Anchorage.

The budget sequestration, a package of across-the-board automatic spending cuts designed to remove $1 trillion in federal spending, went into effect on March 1.  Among the cuts in place for 2013 are $441 billion from the Pentagon’s budget, a cut described as “the steepest decline in our budget ever” by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Meanwhile, cancer clinics have begun turning away thousands of Medicare patients being treated with expensive chemotherapy drugs, which the clinics say they can no longer afford. The federally funded Head Start early education program is expected to lose about 70,000 of its roughly 1 million slots, and the National Science Foundation expects to make 1,000 few grants this year.

The sequestration is expected to affect Alaska in a variety of ways, including a loss of around $5 million to Alaska’s National Parks, and a loss of $78 million to Army base operation funding.

Among the cuts are the Air Force Thunderbirds – a defining presence in many air shows around the country, including Anchorage’s biennial Arctic Thunder air show (next show is in 2014). The Air Force Thunderbirds are known for nail-biting displays of choreographed flying, where pilots in F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets fly just a few feet from each other as they snake across the skies.

In 2012, the Arctic Thunder airshow pulled in an estimated 125,000 to 150,000 viewers, organizers said. If all attendees were Alaska residents that means one in five Alaskans were there.

The Army’s Golden Knights parachute team also performed at the air show. They too have canceled their season for 2013.

John Cudahy, president of the International Council of Air Shows tells The Associated Press that about 200 of the nation's 300 air shows have been affected by the federal budget cuts and 60 have already been cancelled. He said more cancellations are expected, and some shows may never come back.

"The worst case is that they either cancel and go out of business, or they don't cancel and they have such poor attendance and they go out of business," he said. Economic impact studies indicate the shows are worth $1 billion to $2 billion nationwide, Cudahy estimates.

"Having the Thunderbirds or the Blue Angels is like having the Super Bowl, it's a household name," Bill Walkup, manager of the Martinsburg, W.Va., airport told The AP.

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson public affairs office was not certain how the budget sequester would affect Arctic Thunder's 2014 air show on Sunday.