WASHINGTON — The Air Force should relax its rules to encourage sponsorships and private donations as a way to reinstate popular air shows canceled due to budget cuts, according to Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev.
Heck said base commanders should be given flexibility to maximize financial support for air shows and open houses without sacrificing readiness, training, maintenance and other military necessities. He said he was prepared to sponsor a bill if necessary to carry out the change.
“I firmly believe it is in our country’s best interest to identify opportunities and solutions to enable installation commanders to continue holding these events,” Heck said in a letter to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley that was released Friday.
The Air Force response this year to an estimated $14 billion shortfall due to the budget sequester included calling off air shows and open houses at bases around the country.
In Las Vegas, the Aviation Nation air show scheduled for November at Nellis Air Force Base was canceled. The 2012 show drew 135,000 attendees, making it the largest free public event in the state.
Heck said the Nellis open house generated about $19.2 million in economic activity. Cancellations not only hurt local economies but prevent the Air Force from cashing in on good will, he said.
Heck said several potential sponsors expressed interest in paying for the Las Vegas show, but were discouraged by Air Force rules. While there are waivers, they are mired in red tape, he said.
Air Force commanders are allowed to accept donations and sponsorships for shows. But regulations say they must not cause the event “to take on the character of a commercial event, carnival or fair.”
Moreover, donors may receive a thank-you note but their gifts may not be recognized publicly and they cannot be granted “special concessions or privileges.”
Their gifts may not be mentioned in news releases.
Heck urged Donley to ease the rules and give commanders flexibility to acknowledge donors, “especially those whose gifts are substantial.
“Public recognition of donors can increase attractiveness for business leaders to contribute to these events,” Heck said. “Further, increasing incentives will increase donations and encourage additional private support of open houses.”
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or
202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.