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Dozens of the nation’s air shows cancel their events

The Navy’s Blue Angels flew in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., last year. The sequester has grounded performance teams.

BRUCE LIPSKY/FLORIDA TIMES-UNION VIA Associated Press

The Navy’s Blue Angels flew in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., last year. The sequester has grounded performance teams.

MILWAUKEE — Dozens of air shows that draw tens of thousands of people and generate millions of dollars for local economies have been canceled this year after the military grounded its jet and demonstration teams because of automatic federal budget cuts.

For years, the biggest draws at air shows have been the military’s two elite jet teams, the US Navy’s Blue Angels and the US Air Force’s Thunderbirds, and their stunts. The armed services also have provided F-16, F-18, and F-22 fighter jets and the US Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights.

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All the teams were grounded as of April 1 to save money.

About 60 air shows have been canceled this year, and more are expected to do so as hope of a budget restoration fades.

Those cutbacks have affected more than 200 of 300 air shows held each year, said John Cudahy, of the International Council of Air Shows.

About 60 shows have been canceled, and he expects more cancellations as hopes for restoration of the cuts fades. He predicted 15 percent to 20 percent of the shows will not return next year, even if the military begins participating again.

‘‘The worst case is that they either cancel and go out of business,’’ he said.

Local economies will feel the sting of the cancellations without the air shows bringing in crucial tourism dollars.

Representatives for some of the nation’s biggest air shows, such as the air and water shows in Chicago and Milwaukee and the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis., said they did not expect a lack of active military jets to affect their events.

The Chicago and Milwaukee shows are held along the shore of Lake Michigan, where large crowds are expected for a free spectacle; the Oshkosh event is primarily a convention of pilots and aviation enthusiasts, with an air show attached.

But organizers of other events said they expected such a sharp drop in attendance that they felt they had to cancel.

Major Darrick Lee, of the Thunderbirds, said a typical season costs an average of $9.75 million and the Air Force has to focus its resources now on its mission in Afghanistan. Team members are still doing local public appearances that have little or no cost, he said.

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