Air fete future in doubt

A CLOUD of doubt has been cast over the long-term future of one of Europe's biggest annual military air shows.The popular Mildenhall Air Fete has been called off for the third year running due to a £9million scheme to reconstruct the runway at the American RAF base.

A CLOUD of doubt has been cast over the long-term future of one of Europe's biggest annual military air shows.

The popular Mildenhall Air Fete has been called off for the third year running due to a £9million scheme to reconstruct the runway at the American RAF base.

But fears are now rife among the local community as to whether the show will ever go ahead again.

The decision to cancel this year's show was made in 2002 when plans to rebuild the 1930s runway were first put up for consideration.


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And on Monday, 14 KC-135 Stratotankers left their home at the Suffolk base for RAF Fairford, where they will remain for six months while the work on the runway is carried out.

The Mildenhall Air Fete, which has attracted thousands of visitors every year since it began in 1975, was called off in 2002 as a security measure following the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11.

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Last year, organisers were forced to cancel the show again due to the conflict in Iraq.

Now Malcolm Smith, chairman of Mildenhall Parish Council, said he fears this year's cancellation could spell the end of the show all together.

"I really do not think there will be another one," he said. "The trouble is that security is such that you cannot have thousands of people just walking in there anymore.

"The show did bring a lot of money to the town but people have just had to accept the fact there has not been one for three years and have got on with it."

In previous years, air enthusiasts have turned out in their thousands to watch the spectacular flying displays during the two-day event, which has often attracted crowds of up to 300,000.

John Taylor, chairman of the Mildenhall Community Partnership group, said an indefinite cancellation and the loss of these visitors would represent a major blow to the area.

He said: "It would be very sad if we did not have another show in Mildenhall, although unfortunately people seem to have got used to not having one after such a long time.

"Security is very tight on the base and ultimately I think this may be one of the reasons we might lose the show altogether. However, we have been told there will be a show next year, and I am certainly looking forward to it."

And Lieutenant Glory Smith, a spokeswoman for RAF Mildenhall, said the base fully intended to hold a fete next year.

"The runway is in need of repair as the concrete has not been replaced since it was built in the 1930s," she said.

"We get many phone calls from people to ask when the next fete is being held, as they are always so popular.

"It is sad to think that people are worried there may never be another show, but we are definitely planning to hold one in 2005."

The construction work on the runway will begin on March 1 and is scheduled to be completed by August 31.

The project, which is being funded by NATO and the US Government, will also mean more than 640 airmen and some of the 100th Air Refuelling Wing's most famous planes will be leaving the Suffolk air base and moving temporarily to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire.

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