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Cherry Festival, Airport Authority reach agreement on air show

Blue Angels at National Cherry Festival 2010
Ryan Spalding
Blue Angels at National Cherry Festival 2010

The National Cherry Festival Air Show will continue as scheduled this summer.

The Northwest Regional Airport Authority approved a new agreement with the festival in a 7-1 vote Monday.

The decision comes after months of negotiations, with hope that the agreement will allow the airshow to continue while also accommodating Cherry Capital Airport’s growing flight schedule.

Back in March, the NRAA sought to form a new agreement with the Cherry Festival to account for Traverse City’s growing tourism economy. The NRAA’s concerns were around flights being canceled and delayed while performers like the Blue Angels run drills and perform in area airspace.

Cherry Capital Airport is now one of Michigan’s fastest growing airports. According to the airport’s 2023 year-end report, passenger counts peaked at 700,699 last year.

But the Cherry Festival was concerned changing times could disrupt the event. Officials worried about giving the airport the power to cancel the show at a moment's notice should an emergency arise — they say that’s the Federal Aviation Administration’s job.

Festival Executive Director Kat Paye said the two groups met repeatedly to hash out an agreement.

“The communication is flowing a lot better. I think the understanding is there that we don’t want to restrict or disrupt air traffic coming into Cherry Capital. We want to work with them and say, ‘what can we do?’” Paye said.

Airport Authority Chair Steve Plamondon said he’s been working with airlines to make small adjustments in the schedule to allow time for the jets.

Federal aviation rules require a 5-nautical-mile radius from the air show’s center during flights. Since Cherry Capital falls within that radius, commercial airline flights cannot land or take off.

“There’s always going to be some cancellations or rescheduling but our objective is going to be to make that as minimal as possible.”

Both sides also agreed to an annual “logistics study.” Paye says this will assess how the airshow can be further streamlined each year but not be used to decide the “airshow’s feasibility.”

Plamondon says the NRAA will continue to make adjustments to allow time for the jets to rehearse before the shows on June 29 and 30.

The National Cherry Festival typically draws more than 500,000 visitors to Traverse City each year.

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.