By Kaija Wilkinson
MOBILE, Alabama (Reuters) - The renowned Blue Angels precision flying team will be grounded for the remainder of its 2013 show season due to federal spending cuts, the U.S. Navy said on Tuesday.
The move was expected after military leaders said active-duty troops would be given priority amid $85 billion in automatic budget cuts that began taking effect on March 1.
Cancelling the remaining 33 shows in the flight demonstration squadron's season will save an estimated $28 million, Navy officials said. Launched in 1946 to enhance recruiting, the Blue Angels program costs about $40 million a year.
"I know a lot of people are terribly disappointed that they won't get to see the Blues perform, but there is probably no one more disappointed than the Blues themselves," said Lieutenant Aaron Kakiel, spokesman for the Naval Air Forces in San Diego.
The Navy's announcement follows the Air Force's decision to cancel performances by its Thunderbirds exhibition flying team as of April 1 due to the so-called sequestration cuts.
The 130-person Blue Angels team, which includes seven pilots, will remain stationed in Pensacola, Florida. The pilots will continue training to maintain flying proficiency but will not practice their thrilling formations and acrobatics, Kakiel said.
The team will continue its outreach in the local community and is looking for ways to stay engaged with supporters in other parts of the country, he said.
Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward said the loss of the Blue Angels' shows in that city would have both a financial and sentimental impact.
"Beyond the multimillion-dollar economic impact of their two annual flight shows in Pensacola, the Blue Angels are a fundamental and beloved part of the fabric of our city, and the loss that we feel as a community is beyond measure," Hayward said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)