NEW FOR THURSDAY: Air Show Looking To Land Top Civilian Jet Teams After Losing Blue Angels

OCEAN CITY — The U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration team, expected to be the feature act at the Ocean City Air Show in June, announced this week it was canceling all remaining appearances for 2013, putting an apparent damper of the resort’s air show, but organizers said this week the show will go on with an all-star civilian line-up.< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office">

For the first few years of the Ocean City Air Show held each June over the beach and Boardwalk, military demonstration teams have been the signature element of the event, most notably the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds.

This year, Ocean City Air Show organizers scored a coup of sorts when they were able to lure the Blue Angels for the 2013 event set for June 8-9. However, federal budget cuts labeled as “sequestration” after an impasse in Washington forced the grounding of most of the armed forces demonstration teams.

While the Ocean City Air Show lost many of its military acts, hope remained for the Blue Angels until this week, although industry insiders knew show and appearance cancelations were imminent.

“The Navy has cancelled the remaining 2013 performances of its Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels,” the statement reads. “The squadron will continue to train to maintain flying proficiency until further notice at its home station in Pensacola, Fla.”

In an official statement, the Blue Angels announced federal budget cuts forced the Navy to reduce its top demonstration team to training for possible future military missions.

“Recognizing budget realities, current Defense policy states that outreach events can only be supported with local assets at no cost to the government,” the statement reads. “This is one of many steps the Navy is taking to ensure resources are in place to support forces operating forward now and those training to relieve them.”

In its statement, the Navy announced it was reluctantly grounding the Blue Angels in terms of air shows and appearances, but would renew the outreach program in the future if and when the budget situation improves.

“The Navy believes there is value in demonstrating the professionalism and capabilities of our Navy and Marine Corps Naval Aviation team, thus inspiring future generations of sailors and marines,” the statement reads. “The Navy intends to continue aerial demonstrations in the future as the budget situation permits.”

While certainly disappointing, the Blue Angels’ announcement this week certainly wasn’t unexpected. Ocean City Air Show producer Bryan Lilley in February briefed the Ocean City Mayor and Council on the potential grounding of military demonstration teams for air shows around the country this year and told town officials the show would go on as planned regardless of the outcome of sequestration. Lilley this week said the Blue Angels announcement, while disappointing, did not signal a negative for the event.

“The reality is, it isn’t really a setback in terms of the Ocean City Air Show,” he said. “What is playing out now is what I outlined for the Mayor and Council earlier this year.”

Instead of featuring the Blue Angels and other military demonstration teams, the Ocean City Air Show will now rely on a talented group of some of the nation’s top civilian performers including jet demos, aerobatic performers, formation flight teams, parachute jump teams and others. Lilley promised the show will provide the thrills enthusiasts have enjoyed for the last few years even without its signature military teams.

“Take the fact that we’re going to have fast-flying airplanes over a crowded beach and it’s like having fireworks over a beach,” he said. “It will still give people a reason to go to the beach and we’re taking it as a positive.”

Lilley said having the top civilian acts performing at the 2013 show, along with the fact several air shows all over the country including many in the mid-Atlantic region have already outright canceled their shows, has the potential to make the resort’s show in June one of the best of the year.

“Couple that with the contraction in the air show business and it looks like we’re going to be the only air show in the state and throughout the mid-Atlantic region,” he said. “If you want to see an air show this year, you’re going to have to go to Ocean City. There are huge numbers of air shows being canceled all over the country, but we’re moving forward.”

In short, Lilley said the federal budget cuts that eliminated the performances of the top military demonstration teams could end up being a blessing in disguise for the Ocean City Air Show this year. He reported being close to inking one of the top civilian jet teams for the 2013 event.

“Sequestration could turn out to be a positive for Ocean City,” he said. “We’re going to have an all-civilian all-star lineup. We know who the headliners are going to be, we’re just not at a point where we’re ready to announce that. We will have jet planes, and all I can say is, they will have afterburners.”