Context is hard to find when the numbers are this big

We are all encouraged to “Write Congress” to support [fill in the cause here] from time to time. Often, the intention of the person seeking help is honorable.

A post I just read on the Facebook page of Kyle Franklin from Franklin’s Flying Circus is a good example. It is a plea with the best of intentions:

“PLEASE SHARE! Airshows need your help! I’m not sure how many of you have heard about the latest possible budget cuts to the U.S. military. But it is really starting to look like the U.S. government is going to cut funding for the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds (pictured above) and possibly all military involvement with airshows. This attached link to the International Council of Airshows (ICAS) explains some of it, but from what I’m hearing from my sources, things are really looking bad. If these cuts do go through, there will be no military static displays at airshows, no demonstration teams, no Blue Angels, no Thunderbirds, and possibly military base airshows will be canceled. I have already heard from several shows that if they lose their jet team they will cancel their show.

“For a lot of us, airshows are a way of life and to see the industry crash like this would be devastating to fans, performers, the U.S. military and the U.S. economy.

“In a recent letter from ICAS they are asking for ICAS members to send letters to their state representatives to try to stop these cuts. I believe it should be more than just ICAS members sending these letters so the politicians know how important airshows are to all of us! I’m asking all of you airshow fans to send letters to your state representatives telling them how important airshows and the U.S. military involvement in them is to you.

“I don’t believe they realize how important and inspiring it is for people to go to airshows. How many of you have learned to fly or join the military because of going to an airshow? I and the airshow industry thank you for all your years of support and hope it will continue.”

Kyle’s words are heartfelt. I applaud him for stepping up and speaking his heart to his more than 8,000 Facebook fans, but the airshow business is Kyle’s livelihood. For that reason, I fear it is hard for Kyle, in this case, to be objective.

One line from Kyle’s message stands out to me: “For a lot of us, airshows are a way of life and to see the industry crash like this would be devastating to fans, performers, the U.S. military, and the U.S. economy.” Devastating? Hmmm.

The U.S. will spend $3.655 trillion and receive $2.882 trillion in fiscal year 2013, according to the Fiscal Year 2013 Budget of the U.S. Government (page 208). That is a $772 billion deficit. The deficit improves slightly in 2014 ($662 billion), then climbs each year through 2022. The Office of Management and Budget forecasts 2013-2022 aggregate deficits to surpass $8.6 trillion.

Kyle also says, “I’m asking all of you airshow fans to send letters to your state representatives telling them how important airshows and the U.S. military involvement in them is to you.”

Where does “U.S. military involvement” in airshows rank in the overall picture of defense spending? What about in the context of massive government deficits?

My point: Context is crucial. The population of the United States is more than 310 million. Everyone holds causes that are important to them. How will the United States move forward, financially, if every cause important to someone is saved from the budget axe?

Can anyone point me toward a government agency that has turned money back to the treasury and asked for future budgets to be reduced accordingly? I’m sure it’s happened, but not very often.

Kyle, I agree that “U.S. military involvement” in airshows is important. And while I enjoy watching the Thunderbirds, Blue Angels, and F-22 demonstrations, I can’t help but think of costs in the context of our budget deficit.

Will our country be weaker if the Thunderbirds stop performing around the country? What does an Air Force without a strong marketing outreach campaign — which is, after all, the role of the Thunderbirds — look like in 10 or 20 years? I haven’t a clue.

But what does a country with crippling, and growing debt, look like in 10 or 20 years?

Of the two, I’ll take my chances on our country surviving without the Thunderbirds.


  1. Martha says

    Revised comment – I sort of got on a roll and revised my post. I hope to provide an “outsider” point of view.

    This was the only article I could find online where the people knew what they were talking about – again thank you for your professional insight.

    Revisions below:

    I am so glad I found this article. As the step daughter of a WWII Navy fighter pilot who was a “hotdog” in the air I am deeply saddened that our country has come to this. I feel like the grinch stole Christmas, someone took my Halloween candy and a big bully sucker punched me.

    So far I have lost the majority of my retirement, my home and gratefully work at a job in an industry where the majority of my colleagues have become obsolete. While I have no health insurance and am able to only work “part-time” – I’m truly one of the lucky ones. Like all of us I am making sacrifices happily and willing to make more. And like so many Americans who are in the “trenches” with me – I thank God I live here and do my best not to whine.

    But no air show? I sat down and cried.

    I admire the many comments where (I assume) pilots are so willing to give up the air shows and solider through.

    It may all be macho fun stuff that really isn’t necessary. But when I’m in Pensacola watching the blue angels careen through the sky I can hardly contain my pride for this land.

    I am not a political person – but it’s even clear to me… This is some sort of grandstanding that is meant to cause pain to the “little people”.

    There appear to be no statesmen left in Washington – at the least let us gather as a people and look up to the skies together.

    My plea to you insider’s: PLEASE don’t let the government take away the “people’s” air show – it’s so much more than planes flying overhead.

    Consider what you represent – the USA at it’s best. The air show industry and military needs to not only think of themselves.

    Remember “us”.

    The Blue Angels and Thunderbirds give civilians, military families and smaller communities across the US hope.

    You inspire us. You give us dreams. You make us proud. You fly.

    You may be “the people’s” only visible “hero’s” in an increasingly fear based climate.

    There appear to be no statesmen left in Washington – at the least let us gather as a people and look up to the skies together.

    You are obviously a smart, no nonsense group.

    I have no doubt that all of you could roll up your sleeves and find a way for those in the private sector to keep up this American tradition. Count on me and your fellow citizens to follow you and give. Show us how to contribute and keep “you” in the air.

    Most of us aren’t listening.
    We need your rallying call.

  2. Terry Sage says

    I grew up on the airport as my father flew all his life trying to scrape out a living for his family. I have been flying way before I was old enough to legally solo and I loved air shows as much as anyone but I agree with Ben that we have to sacrifice now to provide for the future. I never ever thought I would see GA in the shape it’s in now. It makes me sick! Maybe not having the biggies at the airshows will bring us GA pilots who will fly until we can’t, back together again. I love airshows but would much rather be flying my rag wing with my buddies to a fly-in any day!

  3. John Cudahy says

    Mr. Sinclair writes that, “Context is hard to find when the numbers are this big.” I think the big numbers actually make it easier to understand context. The annual defense budget in this country is $850 billion. The cost to run the U.S. Navy Blue Angels for one year is $25 million. That represents less than three one-thousandths of one percent of the Defense budget. Math was never my strength, but it seems pretty clear that the budget won’t be balanced on the backs of the country’s two military jet demonstration teams.

    Is there waste and inefficiency in the DoD budget? Almost certainly. And there are many people qualified to identify and eliminate that waste. But I guarantee that they won’t find much in the budgets of either the U.S. Navy Blue Angels or the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

    I am a bit surprised at the casualness with which some in this general aviation community dismiss air shows and the military’s involvement in them. At a time when new pilot starts are at historic lows and the aviation industry struggles to identify tactics for attracting and inspiring young people to become pilots, air shows stand as a century-long success story. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have shared stories about the air shows they attended as children that prompted them to become pilots. Air shows are the public face of general aviation in this country…the only time that many people are exposed to non-airline industry aircraft…the one opportunity that many of them have to visit their local general aviation airport.

    I’d like to encourage a bit more unity and empathy on those issues that impact general aviation. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, we must all hang together within the GA community or we shall surely suffer individually.

    John Cudahy
    International Council of Air Shows


  4. Douglas Boyd says

    Should we in GA, be throwing stones though? Aren’t we a protected interest as well? Certainly, AOPA is always advocating our GA rights in Washington. As a pilot I always wince a bit getting a WX briefing from FSS paid in part by non-pilots tax dollars when I can get the same from DUATS without a tax-burden? Shouldn’t we all be thinking of sacrificing something for the betterment of all? Just a thought.

  5. Ted says

    How about, for starters, stop the fly-by’s over Arlington National Cemetery for burials? Is it really necessary that a B-52 does a flyover for a military burial at Arlington? Not only does the fuel and cost of the aircraft come into mind, but how about the unnecessary delays to air travelers in the Washington area as DCA is shut down, so that this display can be done? I shudder to thnk of the cost in tax dollars for these, and they happen frequently, very frequently. Sometimes a B-52, sometimes a formation of F-16’s, sometimes a stealth fighter. There seems to be no end to military spending, especially on something as frivolous as this. Neat to see? Yes. An honor for the dead? Yes. Necessary when the country is in financial ruin? I think a funeral at Arlington with full military honors is enough. The bleeding has to stop. Now. Someone needs to be held accountable to the US taxpayer.

  6. Richard says

    Ben, I just ran across this headline in our local online newspaper, It is a quote from Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal:

    Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sequestration response: ‘Stop scaring the American people’

    Like you say in your article, its exactly what some of our rotten politicians in Washington are doing. Sorry to be posting twice.

  7. Richard says

    The politicians are making a big mountain out of a mole hill. Folks, quit voting for the guys with the most promises. This country is in real serious financial trouble, and stuff needs to be cut. I see they are closing a bunch of control towers. Several years ago I used to fly into Stennis Airport in Bay St. Louis, MS and it had no control tower. It didn’t have very much traffic, now it is on the list to have its’ tower closed. I never thought it needed one. I’m sure this has to be a pork barrel thing that was delivered to the people of Bay St. Louis & Mississippi by some politician that really wasn’t needed. Obviously, it wasn’t, because now the airport will operate again without a tower. There has to be a limit put on the amount of pork that a politician can send home that came out of your’s and my wallet. No, I don’t live in Mississippi.

  8. Tom Charlton says

    I agree. I’ve felt this way ever since I heard about the possibility of cutting military demos at air-shows. If any one air-show can’t sustain itself without military participation then so be it. This debt crisis must be brought under control. Kyle Franklin is my favorite and does a fantastic job. I wish him and all civilian air-show performers the very best. Everyone I know has needed to adapt to change and have a plan B. I suspect many or most civilian air-show performers have a day job to support their passion of performing aerobatics for all us wide eyed kids at air shows everywhere.

  9. Capt T says

    Spent 27 years as a Navy pilot. Remember at least 3 drawdowns/budget cuts, with my plane out of gas cause the first cuts are operational, mostly to emphasize how national defense was in jeopardy. No one every invaded or started a war and once money was reallocated, we were back in theair in a month. The greatest threat to our country is our rapidly mounting debt.
    When citizens can’t afford something, we stop spending. I can live for a while without expensive demo teams at air shows. Assign those jocks a ground job until we get our fiscal act together.

  10. ray sheffield says

    What happened to our pride in our armed services?

    If we want to save money stop sending F-16 and M-1 tanks to other countries
    that hate us.

    Bottom line lets keep the airshows.

    • Rich says

      Boy is that ever the truth.
      We are broke, not GOING broke. We ARE broke.
      And you are right.
      We are giving F-16s and Abrahms Tank to people that want to kill us while we complain about these TRAGIC cutbacks to a military demonstration team?

  11. Mark Hancock says

    Having served in the military, and worked airshows at bases I’ve been staitioned at, I’d hate to see them go but in this economic climate, I cannot support the DoD paying for them anymore. The reason the military puts them on is for community relations but times right now are tough. I hope airshows can still exist and be supported in another way.

  12. Mark Hancock says

    I agree with both sides – to a point. Yes, we can survive without the Blue Angels, T-Birds, and military airshows, but there are some that won’t. Quite a few get income and business from the airshows that military bases put on – free of charge to the public. These airshow performers will lose quite a bit of income if not all if their reliance is on these shows. No, I am not saying we need to keep the airshows just to provide income for these performers but we are at a point in which aviation needs to re-address itself. Maybe the we need to start charging admission for shows? Nothing huge but something. Just a thought.

    • chuck says

      If Obama was serious about budgets and cutting them there are many places to cut. Here is an idea lets ground the fleet that we pay for since he thinks the “fat cats” don’t need there jets, and wants to cut the tax incentives. He and his bunch can walk or take the bus the next time they want to spend our money on jet fuel.

  13. Cedar Young says

    What is the economic impact at the local level? The Miramar Air Show generated $17 million in direct economic impact. Most of that impact is in accommodations. The Air Force uses the event for marketing and currency, after all the pilots need to fly whether it is an air show or combat readiness. If the T-Birds do not perform, the direct impact will be on the people who work in the hospitality industry. On average, air shows draw 60% of their attendance from 50 miles away. In other words, people spending us out of this recession. Cancelling events stops the movement of money through the economy. Cancel the Superbowl, as well! The cost to New Orleans and the Federal Government (terrorism task force) was insane, but the revenue to the City was two, three or by some estimates five times the cost for security and traffic control and so forth. Cancel the non-essentials, but do it understanding that there is an economic impact to the communities.

  14. Mike Camelin says

    I am appalled that we are even reluctantly willing to let the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels go on the chopping block for “the greater good”. The fact of the matter is, from the manned space program on down through military spending for air-shows and then all of the other cuts that will ultimately affect GA in a horific way, our goverment is systematically dismantling this country in the way we have known it (53 years for me) and re-making it into something else. Something that I would venture to say that the vast majority of your readers do not want to see.

    So, you don’t like big airshows? Don’t like manned space flights? Yeah, let them go. See what the next generation grows up to be!

    My suggestion is; let’s fire the whole lot of these politicians and get some representation that will actually represent the best interest of this country.

  15. John says

    This is Great! I to agree with the writer of the article, but what I find more important than that is the context of the comments I am reading. Its hard to argue with people I agree with. Obviously the folks who read this blog accept reality and are intelligent to boot.

  16. Blake Sobiloff says

    Right on, Ben! Ever notice how the most visible items that are the popular favorites are always first on the chopping block when someone suggests reining-in the budget by even the smallest amount?

  17. says

    Hey Ben!
    I agree with your sentiments here. This whole fiasco is yet another chapter from the “How Politics is Played” book from the boys in DC. While the loss of these shows will no doubt hurt the bottom line of many people, the larger context is that we MUST get our financial house in order. If not, we risk much more…

  18. Jscott says

    This whole deal is more about the government trying to make sequestration painful rather than using a good sense approach to budgeting. Why? Because congress and the president refuse to do the jobs they are well paid for doing. You don’t see congressional or presidential pay included in sequestration. Why? Because it’s about them making cuts where it can inflict the most pain and get the most people riled up. In the mean time, the pork barrel rolls on. Air show cuts would be highly visible, so the T-Birds and B Angels may not fly for a while. Even if we go off the “fiscal cliff”, it is only be a temporary measure designed to get congress and the president to do their jobs. If they should ever actually negotiate and compromise, then many of the cuts will be restored. Going off the cliff doesn’t mean that every cut will stay cut. Only that we have to plan as if the funding won’t be there. Of course the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels will be flying again. But they may have to take a year or two off while Congress and the President continue to fail miserably at their jobs.

    • Terry says

      Actually the Reps Presented a number of bills and one had no pay checks till its done. The Senat dems wouldn’t vote on it. Twice they had a plan but when it came to the signing Mr O changed his mind. You can not compromise with today’s liberal. They only want more. If they can’t keep this country running with a 2.5% cut it is time to go home. As far as fair shares we have the last guy to thank with cutting the bottom tier and unearned subsidies. If he doesn’t like fat cats and planes let us take our’s away and he and the wife can drive from now on. Air Force one and two in two different directions. Enough!!!

  19. Ted says

    I am in the military and can say without a doubt that I will in no way be devastated by the lose of Airshows. I will be disappointed if there isn’t one near my area but I am sure they can go on without the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds or whatever group of prima donnas they have suited up that year. I would hate for those guys to actually have to to out and work for a living. Even by military standards they don’t earn their keep. I have never seen one 19 year old infantryman who said right before getting his butt blown up on the streets of Bagdad, “man I joined up because I saw the Thunderbirds at an Airshow”. They are neither my heroes nor do I admire the service they give to their country. And as far as not getting to see that money waisting piece of grounded junk that is commonly referred to as the F-22? Big deal. With the money we save maybe I can finally get a new rifle that works in a caliber that will do it’s job.
    Yes Airshows are fun. Kids big and small and young and old like them. But I would rather be flying some worn out piece of low power Wichita tin myself than watching some other guy get all the fun.

    • Walt says


      what you don’t know is that the Thunderbirds exists for recruiting. There are thousands of people that enter the United States Air Force they do so because they say they went to a Thunderbirds their show. If the Air Force did not get a return on their investment by having the Thunderbirds they would have been done away with a long time ago. In addition, if you think that by doing away with the Thunderbirds of the blue Angels it will make your life better in any way you don’t know how the DOD budgets. At the end of every fiscal year there are billions of wasted dollars going into programs that are for all practical purposes useless. The way we spend money in the United States is almost criminal. If you don’t spend every penny you got this year you will not get it next year in addition to whatever percentage of money you think you need for future spending years. There is no incentive to save money and there is every incentive to waste. President Eisenhower once told someone on his staff that told him that there was no more money they could cut out of the defense budget and that to try to do so would cripple the military. He told that individual, that he could tell every Colonel in the military that he would promote the general if they could cut their budgets by 10% and he would get stampeded after the announcement as they rushed off to cut the budget. The solution isn’t to cut popular programs but the change our governments mindset when it comes to money. They currently, don’t care because they don’t see it as their money-it’s other people’s money. In addition most of the money goes to selected friends and is filtered back to them. That is why almost everyone that goes to Congress comes out a multimillionaire. Look at the facts, don’t be one of the sheep that Congress expects you to be by getting bogged down in the minutia of canceling popular programs.

      • Ray DeForge says

        He’s right. I spent 20 years in the Navy, and I know that if the division or department have funds remaining from their quarterly OPTAR budget the word gets out to their supply PO “find something to spend it on, or we’ll lose it”. And like good supply PO’s, they eagerly rally to the call. Where do you think they get those Navy leather flying jackets from?

  20. says

    Ben, I’m afraid you may get beat up on this one. But I agree with what you are saying.

    But the bigger problem seems to be all of the programs being threatened due to a 1% reduction in the INCREASE in spending. This year the Feds are already —with the sequester— planning to spend more money than they did last year. They are claiming that the sky is going to be falling if they don’t get that 1%. I find that hard to believe. If it happens, that means we either have the worst budget managers in the history of government who are incapable of setting priorities or that they are trying to put out a political message.

    I know which possibility I would bet on.

  21. Bill Lyons says

    I’m with Sinclair. Have been an active pilot my whole life since age 19. 4500 hrs, Comm and Inst. Big airshows have got to go, among hundreds of other non essential favorites.

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