San Diego Air Show Grounded By Shutdown

This weekend, the Miramar Air Show in San Diego was cancelled due to the federal government shutdown. The show is a boon to the region's economy, drawing nearly half a million people.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The shutdown is affecting communities all over the country. We're going now to San Diego. There is a big U.S. Navy presence in town and San Diego is home to the Miramar Air Show. But that show has been cancelled this weekend due to the partial government shutdown. In past years, the event has drawn over half a million people, earned millions of dollars for programs that help military families. NPR's Sam Sanders reports from San Diego.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Robert "Scratch" Mitchell is with the Patriots Jet Team, a group of civilian pilots who perform in shows across the country. They were set to headline this year's Miramar Air Show. It's the largest of its kind. But, on Thursday morning, a day before the show was to start, Scratch got some bad news.

ROBERT SCRATCH MITCHELL: I was actually in my bed, 6:45, and I just happened to turn the news on and I saw the ticker tape going by on the bottom saying Miramar Show cancelled. It's sort of like being broken up to a text message. You wake up and you're, like, what? And this can't be.

SANDERS: Half of his team was already in San Diego. The others were set to come down later that day from Northern California.

MITCHELL: We quickly phoned back to our base in Byron, California, and said, don't get in any jets 'cause things are going wrong down here.

SANDERS: Scratch talked to me just outside of the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, where it was pretty quiet. If the show were still on, the scene would be completely different:

MITCHELL: Lines of cars coming in, parking lots filling up, the engines starting. You'd have the smells of all the vendors and the food carts. And there would just be a buzz of energy in the air. Right now, it's obviously not that.

SANDERS: Thursday's cancellation comes after another hit, earlier this year: This spring, the sequestration budget cuts also threatened to shut down the air show. But organizers found a way to salvage it. They planned to put on a scaled-down show, headlined by civilian flyers. Then came the shutdown, which scrapped the whole thing. It all happened so quickly, many in San Diego still didn't know, like Rhaiza Jablecki. I actuality broke the news about Miramar to her.

RHAIZA JABLECKI: That's sad. This is our tradition.

SANDERS: Jablecki says she used to take her sons to the show. What she'll miss the most...

JABLECKI: Going inside the planes. Some of the big carriers. My boys love to jump inside, and take pictures and just going inside of the actual planes.

SANDERS: Jablecki says the shutdown might hurt her bottom line, too. Her husband is a civilian, but his employer does a lot of work with the military. Congressman Scott Peters' House district covers Miramar. And Camp Pendleton sits just to the north. Peters says a big chunk of San Diego's economy is defense.

REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT PETERS: The San Diego economy has three main drivers. One's tourism, one's innovation and science and technology, and one's the military. The military accounts for about 25 percent of our jobs.

SANDERS: And apart from the military, government workers are also being hurt.

PETERS: San Diego's one of the top ten places for federal employees. We've seen about 30,000 layoffs. It's having a huge impact on us.

SANDERS: Military towns like San Diego will get some relief from this latest hit. The Pentagon announced Saturday that it's ordering most of its civilian employees furloughed by the shutdown back to work. Rhaiza Jablecki hopes the whole shutdown doesn't go on much longer.

JABLECKI: I hope no more than this weekend.

SANDERS: And until it's resolved, she recommends some tough medicine for Capitol Hill.

JABLECKI: Congress should not get paid until they figure this out.

SANDERS: It's a message echoed throughout the entire city. Washington needs to figure it out. Because in places like San Diego - all across the country - more than just an air show is at stake. Sam Sanders, NPR News.

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