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Flyover State: Military Says Sequester Could Mean Goodbye to Those Airplane Demos Before Big Games (But Is That the Full Story?)


Do the facts fully support that logic?

An F/A-18 jet flown by the U.S. Navy flight demonstration squadron Blue Angels, flies inverted over San Francisco Bay Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, in San Francisco. The Blue Angels practiced over San Francisco Bay in preparation for this weekends Fleet Week festivities. Credit: AP

We've already heard a lot of scary stories about Friday's upcoming cuts to planned government spending (know as sequestration). Maxine Watters, for example, said on Thursday the entire workforce could be laid off (although we think her numbers were off). Friday's midnight deadline came and went, and now we're getting word that the cuts the president first championed but is trying to blame on Republicans could hit the sports world -- that's right, this could be the end of those military flyovers before big games.

"Due to federal budget issues, the sporting world will soon have to say goodbye to flyovers," Yahoo Sports reports, based on a piece by NBC News:

And they're not the only ones.

"The Thunderbirds are expected to stand down effective April 1. (Las Vegas) is pretty much going to be, I think, the last flyover you'll see for a while from us," Wendy Varhegyi, chief of the engagement division for Air Force public affairs, explained to USA Today.

And there's more. She blamed it on the s-word: "And then at that point, we'll reevaluate. … Sequestration is a 10-year problem, so we just don't know."

But wait, is there really a direct correlation? Get a load of what Varhegyi went on to admit.

"It's no additional cost to the government for support of any public events," she added. "Typically, if you see a unit fly over a football game, that is 90 seconds out of a several hour training sort that they're flying.'' [Emphasis added]

In other words, it doesn't cost the government much, if any, extra money to do the flyovers because many are already part of training missions.

Indeed, that was what came out of controversy surrounding the Super Bowl flyover in 2011 when the Navy sent several F-18 fighter jets to rumble over a closed roof in Dallas. Many were outraged that government would allot a whopping $450,000 for a flyover that no one inside saw. But as CNBC pointed out, those weren't all the facts:

Many in the media quoted a $450,000 cost to taxpayers for the flyover over the closed Cowboys Stadium.

The number was arrived at by Dallas TV reporter Byron Harris of WFAA who reported that the cost breakdown was based on the operational cost of the aircraft combined with the time it took the pilots, who flew from Virginia to Texas, to fly the mission. Harris provided the information given to him by the Air Force to CNBC.

But Mike Maus, deputy public affairs officer for the Naval Air Force’s Atlantic division, told CNBC that he isn't aware of the specific tables that Harris obtained. He says that the only cost of the trip that the Navy records is the fuel cost, which was $109,000.

Maus also said he thought the press was mischaracterizing some aspects of the flyover.

“These missions are included in the annual operating budget of all branches of the military and they are used as training,” Maus told CNBC at the time. “There was no additional money provided to us, Congress did not cut us a special check to do this flyover. This is considered a training mission whether they were to fly over the Super Bowl or not.”

And that doesn't factor in the cost of free advertising. It's at least an argument the military has used int he past, like when flyovers become a hot topic around the time of the 2008 Super Bowl.

"For the publicity aspect of it, I'd say it's definitely well worth it when you consider the cost to advertise during the Super Bowl," Blue Angels press officer Capt. Tyson Dunkelberger told the Orlando Sentinel back then. "The more people see our blue jets and recognize the Navy, the better it is for us."

So where does that leave us? Are we really going to see an end to flyovers?

It's possible, but it should be noted that the loss of the big-game staple is an effect of budget cuts to the military in general, not a specific line-item scratch. That's because, according to the spokespeople above, flyovers aren't a separate item to begin with -- it's all just part of training. The Blue Angels, however, are a different story. It appears sequestration would directly affect the Navy's elite demo team.

Maybe cuts to the military (there will be some) and thus training will still outrage you -- but now you'll at least be armed with all the facts if someone tries to tell you that Republicans and their budget cuts have killed the military flyover.

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