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Antique Fly-In struggles to pay bills

Unless some major donors step up by next week, the Merced West Coast Antique Fly-In may not take place this year, the chairman of the 50th annual event last June said.

Rich Basart said the Fly-In still owes vendors $8,000 from last year's event and about $30,000 is needed to conduct this year's activities, traditionally held the first Friday and Saturday each June.

"It's history and it would be tragic if it weren't held," Basart said. "There's such huge interest in it. The interest is there but we need money and bodies."

Basart is hoping the Fly-In can experience what happened with the MERCO Cycling Classic two years ago. Major corporate sponsors stepped up to underwrite the event's costs and the event has continued each year.

Hundreds of vintage aircraft and thousands of spectators attend the annual Fly-In at Merced Municipal Airport. Basart said last year not all of the pilots paid Fly-In entry fees, some corporate sponsorships didn't materialize and many people watched Saturday's air show from outside the airport confines.

Bud Field, of Hayward, who has been coming to Merced's Fly-In for more than 20 years, said there definitely will be a Fly-In this year. It may be scaled down from previous years and more community-oriented but it will happen, he vowed.

The owner of a vintage aircraft restoration business and hangars for corporate jets, Field is president of the Experimental Aircraft Association chapter in Hayward. Basart said Field paid the bill for last year's security guards. "It'll be just fine; it'll be fun," Field said. "I don't want to see it end."

The Fly-In still owes the trophy shop, caterer, golf cart provider and portable restroom rentals, Basart said. He said the vendors have been very patient in waiting for payment.

Ron Elliott, airport manager for the city of Merced, said the Fly-In is a great community event. It's the longest running fly-in in California. "I sure would hate to lose it, let it lapse," Elliott said. "It's a positive deal for kids, the community and the aviation community."

Committee organizers are due to approach the city's Airport Authority Tuesday night for permission to use the airport for the Fly-In.

Even if there were no organized Fly-In, Basart said at least 100 planes would show up in Merced that June weekend. Basart said he personally has $5,000 invested in the Fly-In so far and it's definitely not a money-making venture. Basart's wife, Jan, has assumed the Fly-In chairmanship for this year.

Bill Cahill, Merced's assistant city manager, is hopeful the committee can "put it together" for this year. "We're still glad to have the Fly-In at the airport," Cahill said.

Merced Mayor Ellie Wooten said many people would be upset if the event were scrapped. Merced City Council member Michele Gabriault-Acosta also wants to see the Fly-In continue, saying it's been a tradition in her family for years, but she said the city is facing state budget cuts this year and may not be able to help out.

Basart said he has already received inquiries from Berlin and London about this year's Fly-In -- assuming it gets off the ground.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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