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War puts air fete in doubt for 2002

PUBLISHED: 07:27 14 December 2001 | UPDATED: 11:01 03 March 2010

NEXT year's Mildenhall Air Show may not go ahead due to the continuing war in Afghanistan.

Fears are growing the fete, one of the biggest in the world, could be cancelled as a security measure following the atrocities of September 11 and the involvement of planes from the base in the current conflict.

NEXT year's Mildenhall Air Show may not go ahead due to the continuing war in Afghanistan.

Fears are growing the fete, one of the biggest in the world, could be cancelled as a security measure following the atrocities of September 11 and the involvement of planes from the base in the current conflict.

With the commitments of American servicemen and resources focussed on the war against terrorism a huge doubt has been cast over the forthcoming event, which attracts about hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

Personnel at the airbase said it is awaiting instructions from its "highest level leaders" before making a decision on whether or not the air show will go ahead in 2002, with a definite decision not likely to be made until February.

But with US resources and its airforce arsenal stretched to the maximum until the war is over, fears are growing it will be too high a risk to go ahead with the show, which is one of East Anglia's top annual attractions.

The two-day event has been pencilled in for the weekend of May 25-26 and it would be major blow for the region, which has enjoyed a love affair with the show since 1975, if it was cancelled.

Since World War Two the people of Suffolk have grown historically close to American serviceman who have been posted at a number of bases around the county.

The Mildenhall military air show, the largest in Europe and one of the largest in the world, is widely regarded as the main celebration of the long running relationship between the Suffolk public and the American airmen.

Only last year the event celebrated its 25th anniversary and attracted more than 550,000 people over the two days, while this year's event brought 400,000 visitors to the town.

Mayor of St Edmundsbury, Brian Bagnall, said any cancellation would be a disappointment and a major blow to the region, but he understood why it might not be able to go-ahead.

"The American servicemen have been great friends to the people of the area and it would be a great loss, but in light of what has happened, and what might or might not happen in the future, we have got to accept the possibility of the show being cancelled.

"Although it would be a great shame for everyone in the area, precaution has got to come first," he said.

"Mildenhall is one of Europe's biggest air bases and there is still a great threat while [Osama] bin Laden is free.

"On that basis we have got to accept any decision the American's make and the safest option could quite possibly be cancellation."

Every year people flock from all over the world to attend the Mildenhall Air Show, which usually sees more than 75 aircraft take to the skies during a seven-hour flying programme each day.

Highlights have historically included the famous American World War Two bombers the Flying Fortresses, the RAF's famous Red Arrows and Hurricanes and Spitfires from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

In more recent times aircraft of the 21st Century, including Hawks, Tornadoes, Jaguars and A-10As have stolen the show with their breathtaking speeds and manoeuvrability.

Aircraft from an array of other countries including Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands also take part in the event, which also raises thousands of pounds for local and national charities. Last year these included Guide Dogs for the Blind, Mildenhall Museum and Bury St Edmunds Samaritans.


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