US Air Force combat aircraft no longer grounded

BROCK VERGAKIS, Associated Press
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U.S. Department of Defense (AP Photo)

U.S. Department of Defense (AP Photo)

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — The U.S. Air Force said many of its combat air forces would start flying again on Monday after being grounded since April because of budget cuts.

The grounding affected about one-third of active-duty combat aircraft, including squadrons of fighters, bombers, and airborne warning and control craft.

Officials at Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia said planes in the U.S., Europe and the Pacific would become airborne again starting Monday. The popular Thunderbirds demonstration team will also start flying again.

“Since April we’ve been in a precipitous decline with regard to combat readiness,” Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command, said in a statement. “Returning to flying is an important first step but what we have ahead of us is a measured climb to recovery.”

The Defense Department received authority from Congress to shift about $7.5 billion from lower priority accounts to more vital operations. The Air Force said the restored flying hours represent about $208 million of that allocation authorized by Congress.

The restoration of flying hours will last through Oct. 1.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Thunderbirds would participate in any of the air shows it was previously scheduled to perform at before its season was canceled. Among others, the team had been scheduled to perform at shows in Milwaukee and Chicago in August.

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