Originally created 12/02/99

Thunderbirds show cleared by FAA



Federal officials have agreed to allow a military stunt-flying team to perform in Augusta.

During a meeting in Atlanta on Tuesday, Federal Aviation Administration officials made an oral agreement to approve an air show featuring the U.S. Air Force's Thunderbirds. The agreement comes after several months of "very intense negotiations," Augusta Mayor Bob Young said.

City officials now are rushing formal applications to both the FAA and the Air Force, Mr. Young said. The Thunderbirds already are booked for 2000, but the city will ask for a performance next year if any of the team's scheduled events are canceled, he said.

If no events are canceled, the city is requesting a performance in 2001, Mr. Young said.

"It's up to the Air Force now," he said. "They've never been here before, and that's to our advantage."

Fran DeJoseph, of the FAA's Flight Standards Office in Atlanta, did not return a telephone call Wednesday to his office. Al McDill, manager of Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field, also did not return a telephone call.

City officials had requested a performance by the Navy's Blue Angels flying team. But the Angels couldn't perform at Bush Field because structures outside airport property would interfere with the team's flight patterns, Mr. Young said.

The Thunderbirds have no such problems, because the team's flight patterns hug airport runways and their access points, Mr. Young said.

"They fly in a much more limited and confined environment than the Blue Angels," he said.

Still, city officials hope for an exciting show.

"The Thunderbirds are just as exciting," Mr. Young said. "If you categorized the teams of the world, the Blue Angels would be No. 1 and the Thunderbirds would be No. 2."

FAA officials first rejected the city's plan for an air show out of fears that large waterfowl near the airport would create a hazard. Mr. Young said that concern was no longer an issue.

"The birds are off the table," he said. "All the hysteria that we had about birds here indeed was a lot of hysteria, and the facts don't bear out the safety issue involving the birds."

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409.