Not Coming -- Blue Angels Denied Permit For Seafair
The Blue Angels won't be coming to Seafair this year, breaking a tradition since the early 1950s of performing their sky-ripping aerial acrobatics at the summer celebration.
The Department of Defense yesterday decided the precision flying team would not perform on Aug. 6 and 7 after being denied initial clearance for its show by the Federal Aviation Administration, said Navy Lt. John Kirby, a spokesman for the Blue Angels in Pensacola, Fla.
Seafair managing director Kate Hastings said early today that while she had heard media reports of the cancellation, she had not received official word from the Blue Angels.
She said she prefers to look forward to what will happen at Seafair in August, including a performance by the Canadian Snowbird flying team. "By anybody else's standards, the Snowbirds are top class."
The problem with the Blue Angels' performance arose after the FAA tightened its rules governing aerobatic flying over populated areas and spectators.
On April 5, the FAA denied the Blue Angels' request for a waiver because of the amount of flying the team would do over the spectators and surrounding homes.
Seafair and FAA officials agreed on a revised proposal in mid-May covering where the Blue Angels could fly. But the Defense Department deemed the modified plan unsafe for its pilots, Kirby said.
Over the years, 22 Blue Angels pilots have been killed during flights and 19 Air Force Thunderbird pilots have died.
The Navy also said the revised plan limited the Blue Angels' ability to perform this year's entire repertoire of maneuvers.
Kirby said it was the first time the team had canceled a show because it couldn't get a waiver.
"Seafair is a highlight for us. It's a great show; we love going to Seattle," he said.
Kirby said the Angels and FAA are not at odds and that he understands the agency's safety concerns, including reservations about crowds that have become more concentrated in recent years.
Hastings said the events that led to the cancellation began after last year's performance, when the FAA felt an infraction or near-infraction of flying rules took place. At the same time, she said, the FAA began looking at the regulation of air-show performances on a national basis because of crashes elsewhere.
Those concerns resulted in the FAA initially denying permission for the Blue Angels show but then giving preliminary approval to a revised plan last month.
The Seafair performances were contingent on the Blue Angels' accepting the changes, she said.
"I personally think what we need to do is get on with the business and realize the era of the Blue Angels is over," she said.
The Canadian Snowbirds will be allowed to perform at Seafair because the type of airplane used and the concept of the show is different from the Blue Angels'. The Snowbirds fly two-seat, sub-sonic, Canadian-built jet trainers called the Tudor, which fly at about 450 mph. The Blue Angels fly the supersonic F-18 jet fighter which can exceed 1,500 mph, although those speeds aren't reached in air shows.
The Snowbirds don't make high-speed passes like the Blue Angels. "It's more graceful," said Capt. Tana Beer, Snowbirds logistics officer. As a result, the Snowbirds are not affected by the same guidelines involving the Blue Angels.
Hastings, who was hired from Denver nine months ago, said the possibility the Blue Angels would not perform this year was one of the problems she foresaw for the community festival when she first considered coming here.
"The thing that attracted me (to Seafair) is how people in the Northwest understand the need for celebration in their lives," said Hastings. "That hasn't changed. The important thing is for the people of Seattle to realize Seafair is in good shape."
The Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, however, hopes to get the Blue Angels at its air show this summer. Air station officials just today changed the show dates from July 23 and 24 to August 6 and 7 with the hope the Blue Angels can appear, said base information officer Howard Thomas. "But we don't have a commitment yet from the Blue Angels."
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