For the Past 26 year The Air Fiesta has captivated local aviation enthusiasts. This September 26, the RIO Grande Valley Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) announced the cancellation of the event. It was devastating news for long time fans with little to no explanation as to why the sudden decision. Turns out the reason was over disagreement between the Organizers of Air Fiesta, the CAF, and the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport.
We spoke to Bryant Walker, Airport Director at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport. He claims that he and his staff met with the CAF for re-negotiation. However, he states it was to discuss the lease tenant agreement, and not the Air Fiesta. “We were not actually ending the airshow… that was a choice made by the Commemorative Air Force. We were just trying to deal with the tenant and the use of the facility they were in.” says Walker.
The CAF moved into the Brownsville Airport in 1991. It had a five-year lease which was to be renewed thereafter. However, after the five years were up the museum and air fiesta continued operating under the city’s expense for 21 years.
“They’re supporting [the museum and Air Fiesta] with their tax dollars, whether they are aware of it or not, and they are supporting a deficit I’m trying to address.”
The airport is in the process of Building a new facility he claims he reached out to the CAF for a re-negotiation.
“His letter to me said you have 30 days to present a proposal whereby you will pay $7,000 a month in rent plus utilities…well, we can’t do that… and I told him that in our initial meeting.” David Hughston – Finance Officer for Air Fiesta and Chairman for the CAF.
Walker has been in office for about a year. He claims previous administrations did not overlook the lack of payment. He believes the CAF stayed rent free due to the benefits the air show and the museum brought to the city.
“The clause allowed the city to pay the remainder of that debt. They’ve actually never generated any payment for rent in the time they’ve been here.” Says Walker.
“We’re operating in the same provisions that the other museums live under, but now it’s been determined that it is too expensive, and we were asked to leave.” claims Hughston.
So, what is happening to the museum and what’s happening to the air show? The museum tells News Center 23 that they are in talks with the Cameron County Airport near Bayview to see if they can relocate. As far as the air show, they say they will be back, but have not determined where at this time.
“The city does not want us here anymore,” says Hughston, “We’re not bitter, we’re not angry, we’re disappointed, but we’re leaving. We’re leaving as quickly and as expeditiously as we possibly can.
That date of departure is not official yet, however, the CAF has begun moving out to the Cameron County Airport in Bayview. The Brownsville airport says they are willing to welcome the Air Fiesta in the future. The CAF says they will be back, but whether they return to Brownsville is still uncertain.