RENO, Nev. (AP) — The Reno National Championship Air Races must raise pledges of $500,000 by Dec. 15 in order to meet operational costs in 2014 and keep the one-of-a-kind event alive, organizers said.
They said they've had to reduce full-time staff from seven to five employees and cut wages and benefits for remaining workers because of financial struggles since a race plane crashed in 2011, killing pilot Jimmy Leeward and 10 spectators on the ground.
Air race president and CEO Michael Houghton, in a statement, said immediate financial assistance is needed in order to put on the 51st annual event in September.
"As difficult as these steps are, they are intended with the sole purpose of keeping air racing alive and preserving this historic aviation event for our community and the world," he said. "As we work to build for the future, we are faced with a set of significant challenges posed in the wake of a third year of financial losses."
Insurance alone to cover the air races was over $2 million in 2012 and $1.2 million in 2013. The nonprofit event is staged each year with the help of hundreds of volunteers.
Air races spokesman Mike Draper told the Reno Gazette-Journal (http://on.rgj.com/1jzlWck ) that "some painful decisions" could be made if the $500,000 can't be raised by Dec. 15 and they include canceling next year's event.
"Depending on what the reception is over the next three weeks, we'll have to see where that puts us," Draper said. "That said, we have no reason to believe we're not going to get there. We're extremely optimistic and confident that we're going to get there."
Support from the state of Nevada and the local and air racing communities helped the air races return in 2012 and to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2013. But all three years resulted in financial losses for the event.
The five-day event features flight demonstrations, stunts and high-speed races in which specially modified planes fly at more than 500 mph wing tip to wing tip barely 100 feet above the tarmac.
It's the only competition of its kind with multiple aircraft classes, including the fastest jets and fighters.