Is it just us, or is anyone else curious as to what the gigantic Navy “fly-over” cost last weekend?
In this time of severe budget cuts, loss of jobs and income, of mounting debt, of record military budgets, last Saturday’s “Parade of Flight” stood out as an awesome display of Naval Aviation, celebrating San Diego’s rightful place in history as the birthplace of one hundred years of Navy flying.
The 189 aircraft chest-thumbing demonstration across San Diego Bay, under the Coronado Bridge (nope, the name has not been changed to Reagan yet), up the belly of the Bay, over Point Loma, where a wedge of jets from the carrier John C. Stennis created a mile-wide formation, created a sight never seen in this once-sleepy resort village next to the Mexican border.
The fly-over was so glamorous, that an entire landing craft filled with bigwigs attended. We had the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of all Naval Ops, the Marine Corps Commandant all here for the spectacle. The whole thing was truly a gift to the good people of San Diego by the Navy, and it allowed the pilots to forget that jet pilots may be a thing of the past over this next decade, as the military increases its drones and pilotless, wingless aircraft.
The 2 and a half hour show, which started around 1 pm (1300 military time) included the Blue Angels and vintage aircraft and the modern F/A-18 Super Hornets, and it included tours and open houses at North Island Naval Air Station, the carrier Stennis, and several other naval war vessels, where 75 aircraft were specially parked at North Island for sightseers, yet also included restricted access to the middle of the Bay by the Coast Guard.
This salute to San Diego’s principle military partner brought good parts of the City to a halt however. As thousands crowded the shores, as an estimated 70,000 visitors, vets and their families stormed Coronado and North Island, the Coronado Bridge was gridlock by 10 a.m. By 11:20, traffic was backed up more than a mile on I-5.
I mean, this is a Navy town, and the Navy has a right to show off, doesn’t it? The Navy has brought so much to this city; the paychecks to its sailors and marines keep the economy in San Diego flowing; its former officers staff the highest echelons of government and business here; its former sailors have bought mortgaged homes and have for decades ensured a conservative slant to the electoral results and general atmosphere of the place. Why, there is more Navy and Marine Corps might in San Diego than anywhere else in the world.
And spectacles like this can help us all forget that last year, more military personnel committed suicide than were killed in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It’s just that such displays like last Saturday’s are costly.
For starters, the cost of flying vintage planes is really high. Plus, the Navy said aviation fuel is running $5 a gallon, and that many pilots burned $4,500 of fuel in just one hour on Saturday. Let’s see … 189 times $4500 in fuel costs for one hour … equates to only $850,500. What’s a million dollars, if it can’t buy an afternoon of fun for all those in awe of our military prowess.
Then there’s the cost of sailing an aircraft carrier into the Bay. The cost of all the extra law enforcement to manage traffic, the Coast Guard expenses.
But I have not seen anything of the costs of this show – not one word – in all the articles published about the event by the San Diego U-T. And there were at least half a dozen articles prepping us for the gigantic “fly over.”
A letter-writer to the U-T did, however, raise the money issue in today’s paper. It was an oblique reference to the costs, but a reference afterall, even if it singled out the City.
V. Price of San Diego wrote:
I was wondering what the city of San Diego was going to do with all the money collected Saturday from all the parking tickets handed out during the Navy fly-over. I don’t mind paying; I was guilty. I thought the city might cut us a little slack for this special air show. I can only hope the money is used to keep my daughters’ teaching and library jobs secure.
Good for you, V. Price – you made the connection – sort of. Price complains of the threat to the jobs of her/his daughters as public employees, who apparently work in schools and libraries. And that’s the connection I made as well.
Here we are browning-out the fire stations, laying off teachers, cops, closing schools, not replenishing our crumbling infrastructure, kicking people out of their underwater homes … yet spending almost a million dollars just on plane fuel an hour for an airshow that was a huge glorified orgy of air power right in the middle of two wars.
And this doesn’t even explore the costs to the environment, with all the pollution from the jets, as well as all the exhaust from waiting cars on the freeway, on Coronado Bridge and throughout North Island.
My curiosity had me call the Navy. I didn’t have high hopes of actually getting any answers, as I know the military. My father was a career military officer and I went to one of the service academies for awhile. But call I did. And after being referred to someone else a couple of times, I did reach Angela at the Navy Public Affairs Office.
Angela was very polite, and when I raised the issue of the “price tag” for Saturday, she replied that they are still trying to come up with it. But that the Department of Defense sets asides funds for these “open houses” in order “to give the public the opportunity to see the military’s capabilities.”
Plus, she continued, this fly-over was just a fraction of what other shows cost. I tried to pin her down on this. What other shows? The annual Miramar air show? The Miramar show is an actual demonstration, she said. It’s more costly, as Saturday’s show was not really a “demonstration” but it was just a fly-over. I didn’t want to argue with her, so I didn’t bring up the fake “dog fight” that two Hornets got into over Point Loma.
And I loved one of her last comments. It was classic military-ese. Besides, she said, it was all billed as training exercise. Every hour up in the air is just another hour of training for the pilots.