Gator Fly In canceled over military cuts

In this April 23, 2011 file photo, Navy Lt. Nicole Johnson sits in the cockpit of her F/A-18 fighter jet as Mathew Bllingsley looks into the cockpit during the first annual Gator Fly In at University Air Center at the Gainesville Regional Airport. The event has been canceled for this year.

Published: Friday, March 8, 2013 at 6:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 8, 2013 at 6:21 p.m.

Military budget cuts as a result of so-called sequestration have led organizers to cancel this year's Gator Fly In and could hurt jet fuel sales that amounted to nearly 84,000 gallons for Navy flights that stopped in Gainesville in January.

For its first two years, the Gator Fly In allowed between 1,000 and 2,000 visitors to get up close and personal with F-18 fighter jets and Navy Seahawk helicopters among other military aircraft that were the highlight of the event hosted by Gainesville Regional Airport and University Air Center.

Bill Pokorny, general manager of the University Air Center, said that after reading about planned cuts to military flights and talking to a few of his military contacts, they decided to cancel the Fly In that had been scheduled for April 27.

The event also has included private aircraft and a car show, among other activities, but Pokorny said the eight to 10 military craft were by far the most popular attraction.

"We didn't want to put this thing together, have a lot of people come out here expecting to see the same caliber show they saw the last two years and be disappointed," he said.

"We'll do it again, just not this year."

University Air Center handles fuel sales for the airport and Pokorny said he's worried about what may happen after April 1 when the budget cuts that are a result of sequestration are scheduled to go into effect.

Congress' failure to come up with a budget deal will reduce military spending by about 10 percent.

As a result, the Navy plans to ground four of its nine air wings of 60 or more aircraft each and has halted basic flight training.

The Air Force and Navy are also ending flyovers of sporting events. University of Florida football games typically have a couple flyovers every year.

University Air Center sold nearly 84,000 gallons of jet fuel to the military in January, more than three times what it sold in January 2012 and boosting overall sales 40 percent to 326,000 gallons.

Largely as a result of the military flights, University Air Center had its highest gross revenues in January, though not its highest profits, Pokorny said. Higher fuel prices added to the gross but also cut into profits.

Pokorny said most flights are typically out of Virginia, Mississippi or Pensacola on their way to the Navy training base in Key West.

A lot of the crews will head into Gainesville for lunch while they're here, he said. "It's got a very big economic impact on the community."

The military accounted for 960 takeoffs and landings at the airport in January, though most of those are touch-and-go operations that don't stop for fuel, Pokorny said.

The airport had more than 6,000 takeoffs and landings overall.

Airport CEO Allan Penksa speculated that the boost in operations may be because the military is trying to get in training before cuts take effect.

Gainesville Regional Airport is not on the Federal Aviation Administration's list of 173 control towers that will close as a result of sequestration. The vast majority of towers in danger of cuts are at airports without a significant amount of commercial airline traffic.

Penksa said tower closures seem like an unnecessary measure given an FAA budget cut of 5 percent.

"I have to believe there's a little bit of posturing," he said.

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