HAVELOCK — The Cherry Point Air Show will not get off the ground next year, according to the air station’s commander.
Col. Chris Pappas III, commanding officer at Cherry Point, announced late Friday the cancellation of the biennial event, citing reductions in the base budget.
“Our top priority continues to be supporting the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing to train to go anywhere, at any time, to fight and to win,” Pappas said in a statement. “We’re prioritizing spending to ensure this priority is met.”
The event, which has also served an open house at the base for decades, typically features high-flying civilian and military aircraft, static displays of aircraft, and often the Navy Blue Angels jet demonstration team. It had been scheduled for the spring of 2014.
Cherry Point’s last air show in 2012 drew 165,000 people for the free three-day event held at the nation’s largest Marine air base.
Havelock Mayor Jimmy Sanders said he wasn’t surprised to hear the news and blamed Washington legislators for not funding the military.
“My response is that we have a Congress that will not adequately fund the military,” he said. “The military has a job to do, and unfortunately, putting on shows for us civilians is not a priority, and I have to agree with them.
“Until this country can get its priorities in order, these kinds of things will continue to happen. It’s going to have an impact on the economy, but Cherry Point’s priority is not to support the local economy. It’s to maintain a highly trained fighting force to defend the country.”
Sanders said he understood the tough decision Pappas made.
“I know that was a hard decision for Col. Pappas to make, but I support the decision that he has made,” Sanders said. “I am continually amazed at how the Congress and the other folks in Washington can be so dysfunctional.”
Havelock City Manager Frank Bottorff once served as Cherry Point’s commanding officer.
“Clearly we are disappointed that we won’t have an air show at Cherry Point in 2014,” he said. “It’s obviously an important event in the community, but we fully support Col. Pappas’ decision. We have a great relationship with the installation, and we understand that because of limited financial resources this decision had to be made. We completely understand and support their making this decision.
“Obviously the air show does have a very positive impact on the economy for a short period of time, so hopefully we will be able to put it back on in the following years.”
The next possible air show for the Cherry Point would be 2016, according to the base statement.
The event, which is typically held in the spring, is a large draw for the city and the base. Stephanie Duncan, executive director of the Havelock Chamber of Commerce, said economic impact reports show the air show is responsible for bringing about 250,000 people to the area during the three-day event.
“We’ll definitely miss out on that potential income on what those visitors will be spending by staying in hotels, but the biggest feeling is that the budget is the most important thing for us,” Duncan said. “The air show is small beans compared to the huge impact of the federal budget problems and the effect that sequestration has on us.”
In 2013, many military-based air shows across the country were canceled because of sequestration and budget cuts, including one scheduled at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro.