Saturday, December 07, 2013

Air Force Thunderbirds to return to Atlantic City Airshow in 2014, Blue Angels in 2015

Military jet teams will headline the Atlantic City Airshow for the next two years, bringing certainty to the city’s signature event that draws hundreds of thousands to the resort.

Following this year’s more low-key event devoid of a major crowd-attracting performance, organizers have landed the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds for a show Aug. 13, 2014, temporarily moving the event back to late summer.

The following year will feature the return of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, who have not been a part of the Atlantic City show since 2006. The 2015 airshow will be held May 27, the earliest date in its modern run.

“Atlantic City has traditionally been a Thunderbirds show. They consider Atlantic City their East Coast home,” said airshow boss David Schultz, whose company organizes the show each year. “The Blue Angels really badly wanted to come back to Atlantic City. … We’re trying to keep things fresh with bringing the blues back.”

Federal budget cuts grounded the teams this year, though scheduling conflicts had already left Atlantic City without a 2013 headlining jet team when the cutbacks were announced. Organizers filled the gap with civilian performances, but crowds were nowhere near as strong as in years past.

Atlantic City emergency management officials estimated 400,000 people watched the 2013 show from Atlantic City’s beaches and Boardwalk, compared with an estimated 908,000 in 2012. Unlike many shows, Atlantic City’s event — one of the largest in North America — is free and unticketed, leaving sometimes disputed police estimates as the only overall gauge of attendance.

The show, which kicked off its modern run in 2003, moved to a June date in 2013 in an effort to draw crowds back to the shore early in the summer following Hurricane Sandy. That move, however, was met with mixed results from business owners who preferred the late summer date.

Joe Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, which sponsors the show, said he just recently received word that the Thunderbirds would be returning to Atlantic City. The jet teams’ schedules are traditionally announced during the International Council of Air Shows conference, which recently concluded in Las Vegas. The U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team has also been confirmed for 2014, he said, adding that most Atlantic City stakeholders hadn’t yet been contacted about the bookings.

“We’re thrilled to have a headliner back. We’re going to see more of a traditional show,” Kelly said. “After doing something in the marketplace for more than 10 years, consistency is important.”

Schultz said much discussion went into the decision to book the Blue Angels for an early 2015 show — including the fact that the team will already be in the area in May for the U.S. Naval Academy graduation flyover.

“We wired the schedule directly with the Blue Angels. The Thunderbirds were in the room, too, so they’re aware of it as well,” Schultz said. “That was the best Wednesday (the Blue Angels) could do, and it will kick off the summer season. Atlantic City is going to be a very busy place at the end of May 2015.”

The last time the Blue Angels came to Atlantic City was in 2006, when the city booked both the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds in a single year. Schultz said he had doubted a double-headliner in Atlantic City was possible but alluded to the potential for future announcements.

“The way the military structure is right now, you won’t see both teams,” Schultz said. “That doesn’t mean I don’t have my hands up my sleeve trying to pull out something else at either show. We’ll see what happens.”

Yet to be decided is the remainder of the lineup for the 2014 show. In years past, the lineups have included a number of military flybys, but federal budget cutbacks may still leave some military aircraft out of the mix. Those gaps can be filled with civilian performers, but that increases the cost of the show, as civilian teams are traditionally more expensive to book than military acts.

The Navy has said it will not have single-aircraft demonstrations in 2014, and some U.S. Marine Corps demonstrations will be limited, Schultz said.

“There’s some sequestration play in the mix there. We’re still working with the Pentagon on that,” Schultz said.

In recent years, tourism officials have made an effort to schedule other events around the show, giving visitors more options for activities in the hopes that people stay for multiple days. Those events haven’t been set, but Kelly said he expects to work with the Atlantic City Alliance on a schedule.

A study by Atlantic Cape Community College’s Center for Regional and Business Research estimated the economic impact of the 2012 event at $42.5 million.


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