Air show plans shelved again

AMERICAN military bosses last night scrapped plans for a scaled down Mildenhall Air Show - sparking predictions that the famous event will never be held again.

AMERICAN military bosses last night scrapped plans for a scaled down Mildenhall Air Show - sparking predictions that the famous event will never be held again.

The “community appreciation” day at RAF Mildenhall - designed to improve relations with the British public - was cancelled yesterday as part of a cost cutting drive to help fund the USAF's part in the financially draining war on terror.

Although despondent military chiefs refused to rule out a similar community event in the future, or a return to the annual air fete which attracted half a million visitors during the 1970s, 80s and 90s, local residents and councillors were less optimistic.

Mildenhall resident Lesley Coppin, who with her planespotter husband Paul was thrown into a Greek prison accused of spying in 2001, said: “I would doubt whether we are ever going to have another air show.

“Once you stop an event like that, it is very difficult to then find the finances needed to start it up again.

“I am not surprised this community day has been postponed as I don't think this kind of thing, or an air show, is high on the list of USAF's priorities.

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“I think the local community will be disappointed as the air fete or anything similar would be a good day out.”

At its peak, the RAF Mildenhall Air Fete attracted more than 500,000 visitors over the two-day show - providing a massive boost to the local economy.

But the show, which became one of the region's biggest events, has not been held since the September 11 attack in 2001.

Subsequent years have seen similar postponements due to the war in Afghanistan and, most recently, work on a new multi-million pound runway at the USAF base.

The ticket-only community appreciation day would have seen 25,000 visitors flock to Mildenhall to witness small flying demonstrations and musical entertainment.

Louise Hillman, sales and marketing manager for the Riverside Hotel in Mildenhall, grimly predicted the local economy would feel the pinch if the airshow was lost forever.

She said: “I don't think this year's cancellation will affect us as much as other businesses.

“When the air show was at its peak, we used to be chock-a-block. I think every local business hopes it will one day return and it has been very much missed.”

But Grenville Dale, chairman of the Beck Row Community Association, said there was a lot of apathy about the event: “I think a lot of people will actually be quite happy because I don't think they would have gone.

“I don't think the community appreciation day would be anything like the air show and some people have told me they didn't even know anything about it.”

Base commander Col Richard Devereaux said: “When the first round of funding reductions came in, I was determined to press on with community appreciation day and take the cuts elsewhere.

“However, the most recent cuts have been much bigger and have given me no choice but to take this very disappointing decision.

“We sincerely appreciate the support of our British friends and neighbours in the local community and I am truly disappointed that the day has been cancelled.”

Colonel Devereaux also moved to calm any fears that yesterday's cancellation would lead to cuts or downsizing at the base.

He said: “As the commander of US European Command has reiterated, RAF Mildenhall is a base with enduring military value to the United States and our NATO partners and there are no plans for closure.”

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