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Area businesses to suffer revenue losses with Westmoreland air show's cancellation

| Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 8:21 p.m.

The federal budget cuts that prompted the cancellation of the Westmoreland County Air Show next month at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport will result in a loss of revenue for area businesses that benefited from fans who flocked to the event.

“I'm just personally disappointed,” said Audra Aliff, manager of the Wingate by Wyndham Latrobe motel along Route 30 in Unity, just east of the Route 981 intersection.

“We were very busy last June (with the 2012 air show). We had a lot of the acts from the air show. The airport had booked a block of rooms for the air show. We held back about 25 rooms and had made a few reservations, besides the airport,” Aliff said.

The Westmoreland County Airport Authority, which manages the airport, canceled the air show on March 2 as the Air Force announced that its Thunderbirds' F-16 fighter jets show schedule would be scrapped after April 1 because of the automatic cutback of $85 billion in federal spending. The federal money was sequestered because Congress and President Obama failed to reach a deal on the budget.

Brig. Gen. Les Kodlick, director of Air Force Public Affairs, stated on the Air Force website that the service branch had “no choice but to stop public aviation support” when the deep budget cuts were implemented.

If Congress and Obama were to reach a deal on the budget and reinstate the money, and the Thunderbirds could resume their performances, airport authority Executive Director Gabe Monzo said, the authority could take that into consideration and reconsider holding the air show. Monzo said there was no specific deadline for deciding if the air show could be held this year.

The performance of the Air Force Thunderbirds on April 27 and 28 was to be the show's headliner. Last year's main act was the Navy's Blue Angels. Their aerial maneuvers and a beautiful summer weekend combined to attract about 75,000 to the 2012 air show in late June.

One of those businesses that benefited from the crowds was Sharky's Cafe, just off Route 30 in Unity, which was looking forward to a repeat of a brisk weekend of business.

“It was very busy last year. We had a full dining room and a 45-minute to 1-hour wait” for tables, said Randall Oaks, banquet manager.

Not only were customers crowding the dining room, but take-out business was brisk from those who took the opportunity to tailgate during the show, Oaks said.

Ron DeNunzio, who operates DeNunzio's Italian Chophouse on the second floor of the airport terminal, said that while the cancellation of this year's show is unfortunate, there were business risks involved in preparing and planning to cater to crowds for an air show in late April because of the uncertainty of the weather.

He said there are considerable nonrefundable costs to renting tents for serving food outside the terminal, plus the cost of extra food and employees to cook and serve it.

“We weren't totally disappointed because there was a risk to it ... more so than last year,” DeNunzio said.

The weather in late April can be cold, as witnessed last year, when the high temperature for the Pittsburgh area on April 27 was just 52 degrees, and the thermometer rose only to 45 degrees on April 28, according to the National Weather Service.

The air show was scheduled for late April because that was the only date available on the Thunderbirds' schedule. The airport authority could not get the Blue Angels for a repeat performance.

The cancellation of the show also will mean a loss of money for nonprofit organizations, Monzo said.

Unity Township volunteers and the Latrobe and Ligonier fire departments split about $8,000 in proceeds from the $2 parking fee charged last year for parking services at the two-day event, said Peter Tenerowicz, Unity Township emergency management coordinator.

The Youngstown Fire Department received a donation of a few thousand dollars for its firefighters who directed traffic into the parking lots last year, said Youngstown fire Chief Barry Banker.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society received proceeds from the air show, and about six other nonprofits were permitted to set up booths at the event at no charge, Monzo said.

The authority had budgeted $245,000 for the show, but the cancellation will not result in the authority's having $245,000 to spend in another manner, he said. The air show is self-supporting; sponsors and vendors pay fees, which underwrite the cost of the show, Monzo said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or