F-16s, F-22s and refueling tankers were among the aircraft sent to Australia for an airshow Feb. 26 through March 3. About 220 airmen attended the international trade show, while air shows are being canceled across the United States due to budget cuts. (Capt. Natassia Cherne / Air Force)
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Faced with a $14.2 billion shortfall this fiscal year, the Air Force is canceling air shows in the U.S. — but not one in Australia.
The service sent airmen and jets from the U.S. and Japan to this year's Australian International Airshow from Feb. 26 to March 3.
"Approximately 220 U.S. service members along with the U.S. Air Force's F-22 Raptor, C-17 Globemaster III, F-16 Fighting Falcon, B-52 Stratofortress, and KC-135 Stratotanker are supporting the AIA13, which allows a unique opportunity for the United States to showcase its aviation prowess and strengthen military-to-military ties with our Pacific allies and partners," according to a news story from Pacific Air Forces.
Meanwhile, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.; Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.; and Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., have canceled their air shows, and more bases are likely to cancel theirs.
"We are able to put that money back into our local operations and maintenance budget to fund a variety of wing priorities," said Lt. Col. Holly Slaughter, a spokeswoman for Luke Air Force Base. "For example, we will be able to purchase a few more needed parts or supplies, or make a few more facility repairs, or conduct a little more training."
Unlike those air shows, the Air Force considers the Australian event a trade show and symposium that "represents one of the premier international aviation engagements in the Asia-Pacific region," said Air Force spokesman Maj. Chad Steffy.
The event has been planned for 18 months, and a top Defense Department official approved the Air Force's participation more than six months ago, Steffy said.
"The aircraft were moved to Australia as part of a Coronet mission using existing flying hours and funding," he said in an email.
Contrary to the PACAF news story, Steffy said that fewer than 100 service members are participating in this year's event. In past years, more than 200 airmen had attended. The U.S. also is sending seven aircraft to the event — half the number usually sent.
"Overall, we estimate the cost at $780,000 including airlift and per diem expenses," he said. "Given the exceptional benefits to bolster business opportunities in the international aviation sector, and the opportunity to interact with key partner nations, it's an excellent investment. Furthermore, a significant portion of these expenses is offset by the trade show industry partners."