PENSACOLA, Florida -- The U.S. Navy's Blue Angels have been "instructed to cease" practices "until further notice," according to an email from the team's events coordinator Lt. Cmdr. Michael Cheng.
The practices already scheduled for this week have been canceled, as have the Blue Angels' scheduled air show performances in April. The official Blue Angels Facebook page states that "future team practices are yet to be determined."
The cutbacks are part of the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, which went into effect earlier this year. The Navy had previously released a plan in which all Blue Angels shows from April through September would be canceled if the sequester took effect, but official word has not come down about how long the Blue Angels will stay grounded.
The team had continued its usual practice schedule at Naval Air Station Pensacola through April 2 in spite of the uncertainty. Huge crowds turned out for each practice session, fearing future practices may be canceled.
According to NAS Pensacola's public affairs team, last week's practices drew 6,100 people on Tuesday, 7,903 on Wednesday and 9,276 on Thursday.
The team's future plans remain very much uncertain.
"We do not know what this means for our air shows in May and the rest of the 2013 season," Cheng said in the email.
Of particular interest to the Gulf Coast is the Pensacola Beach Air Show, scheduled for July 12-13. That show is the biggest tourist draw of the year on Pensacola Beach, drawing tens of thousands to Santa Rosa Island.
Santa Rosa Island Authority Executive Director W.A. "Buck" Lee told the Pensacola News Journal that he was hopeful the show would go on, but that he realized the pilots need to stay in practice in order for that to happen.
"If they stand down for 30 days without practicing and are allowed to practice in May, I think we'll have a chance," he said. "If they don't practice for six months, I believe they'll have to go back to California and start training all over again."
Although there will be no practice today, the Blue Angel pilots will still participate in a scheduled autograph session at 11:30 a.m. at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola.
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