SF’s Fleet Week air show canceled with Blue Angels grounded

S.F. Examiner File Photo

S.F. Examiner File Photo

No Blue Angels, no air show. No air show — no Fleet Week?

Not as The City knows it, anyway.

San Francisco’s annual Fleet Week celebration — the highlight of which is two days of aerial stunts performed by the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, also known as the Blue Angels — will be a drastically  scaled-down event this year.

The U.S. Navy announced Tuesday that the Blue Angels’ events nationwide are canceled for the rest of the calendar year because of the federal budget impasse in Washington, D.C.

The cuts will save the Navy $15 million to $20 million, but they’ll cost San Francisco.

The Blue Angels are the lynchpin of Fleet Week’s air show, which draws more than 1 million visitors to rooftops and open spaces around Marina Green and Crissy Field every October. Without the Blue Angels, it is a “safe bet” there will be no air show, according to Michael Allen, director of the Fleet Week Association, which organizes the event.

“It’s a rather expensive event, and the Blue Angels were the draw,” said Allen, whose group’s $740,000 annual budget relied on corporate sponsorships and a $70,000 government grant to pay a Southern California event company to host the air show.

Two Fleet Weeks over the past decade had an air show with no Blue Angels, Allen said, and the result was a “financial disaster,” he said.

“It’s a safe bet to say we’re not going to have an air show,” he said.

Tickets purchased for this year’s air show will be refunded within 72 hours, according to a statement from retired Maj. Gen. Mike Myatt, who chairs the San Francisco Fleet Week Association. The organization plans to put on an air show in 2014, Myatt said.

Fleet Week is more than an air show: past events have seen up to nine naval vessels from different countries, along with their complements of tens of thousands of sailors and Marines, visit The City.

Members of the military use the time to stage disaster preparedness and humanitarian aid training with local law enforcement and firefighters; past highlights have included a squad of Marines landing at Ocean Beach.

It remains to be seen what can be salvaged for a 2013 Fleet Week. The Parade of Ships is at risk as the Navy’s Third Fleet has yet to decide where it will visit, according to Lt. Lenaya Rotklein, a Navy spokeswoman. But even if the Navy decides to send ships there might not be anywhere along San Francisco’s waterfront for them to dock.

Pier space used by colossal naval vessels like the USS Nimitz in the past is occupied by crews preparing their catamarans for the America’s Cup races, Allen said. Past visits have included an average of six vessels — though in 2012 there were nine — and room might be found for a lone vessel.

“But if we do have a ship,” he said, “we’ll continue to provide hospitality” to the visiting crew.

Mayor Ed Lee’s office plans to meet with Fleet Week organizers within the next two weeks to ensure some kind of Fleet Week happens, according to spokeswoman Christine Falvey.

Organizers, including Myatt, said that the training exercises will go forward in some capacity.

Supervisor Mark Farrell, whose district includes the northern waterfront, said the cancelation of the Blue Angels will decrease number of people who visit area businesses.

“It was a yearly event that brought a ton of traffic down to the Marina and northern waterfront,” he said.


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