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National Cherry Festival, Cherry Capital Airport dispute leaves air show in question

TRAVERSE CITY — The future of a main attraction at the National Cherry Festival, an air show that brings in hundreds of thousands of spectators, is currently up in the air.

National Cherry Festival Executive Director Kat Paye said that there are serious concerns that the popular event might not happen this year. NCF claims the Northwest Regional Airport Authority, which operates Cherry Capital Airport (TVC), is to blame.

Christian Smith, director of the NCF air show, said the NRAA is pushing them to sign an agreement that would give the airport unilateral control over the event.


“It’s been very demanding and one-sided. They’ve preached a collaborative effort and a task force when in reality, any time that we meet or speak it is ‘Here is our agreement, it’s our way or the highway,’” said Smith. “Their agreement that they’ve put forward continues to minimize our air show and eventually just eliminate it after 2026 or make it so impossible to put on.”

But TVC CEO Kevin Klein said they have safety concerns because of the growth of the airport over the years. Klein said they are just trying to figure out a balance between the air show and normal airport operations.

“That’s what we do for everybody. So we’ve presented an agreement to the Cherry Festival for which they want total control of the airport. They want to shut the airport down for multiple hours,” said Klein.

Smith disagreed, saying the air show should have minimal impact on airport operations.


“There is six and a half hours of our four days that we are using our air show that actually affect air carrier schedules. It’s while the United States Navy Blue Angels are up in the air. And that’s what we’ve hired a team of professionals to come in and help us manage,” said Smith.

The National Cherry Festival believes with planning, TVC could go about business as usual. Klein said that’s not true.

“It really impacts Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday. It really comes back, when you analyze, there is about 70 air carrier flights that they’re impacting,” said Klein.

Klein said an average of 78 flights equals a full day of summertime air traffic.


NCF argues that the air show, which happens over West Grand Traverse Bay, should be far enough away to avoid much impact.

TVC says the 2.1 mile distance doesn’t matter – when you have high performance aircrafts in the skies, air travel is shut down over a 5 mile radius.

Both sides say they hope to come to some kind of agreement, but the airport authority says that has to happen at least 60 days before the show.

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