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MacDill's AirFest to return in 2014

The Thunderbirds fly in a tight formation during the closing show at the 2011 AirFest at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Published Dec. 12, 2013

TAMPA — MacDill Air Force Base's popular AirFest will be back next year after a one-year hiatus, base officials announced Wednesday.

The event is scheduled for March 22 and 23 and will feature the Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration team.

The free on-base event, which always draws large crowds, was canceled last year in the face of federal budget cuts. Both the Thunderbirds and the Navy Blue Angels flying groups were grounded.

On the AirFest's Facebook page, event organizers said the U.S. Department of Defense is now allowing the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds to resume their flying and performance schedule for 2014.

Planners say the Air Force spent the past month evaluating whether it could support air shows across the country. This year's performance will be a little different because of "fiscal realities," Maj. Matt Parker, AirFest director, said in a news release.

The event will include more civilian aerial demonstrations and airplanes, including cargo, fighter and specialty aircraft, that will be displayed on the ground.

"We believe we are creating a template for future military air shows that is fiscally responsible and sustainable," Parker said in the statement.

Gregory Celestan, outgoing chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and chairman of Celestar, a defense contractor, said the event gives thousands of people an opportunity to see MacDill.

"For some people, this is the only chance that they get to see the equipment face-to-face," he said.

AirFest also benefits the restaurants and other businesses surrounding the base, Celestan said. When it was canceled last year, he said, it was disappointing to many — including MacDill's staff.

"They enjoy it, too," Celestan said. "It's an opportunity to show what they do."

The event also is getting a new name — the MacDill AFB presents Tampa Bay AirFest. Organizers said it better reflects the event's regional draw.

Times staff writer Jimmy Geurts contributed to this report.

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