How Much Super Bowl Flyovers Cost American Taxpayers

Military Continues Tradition Despite Budget Cutbacks

Air Force Flyover
The Thunderbirds perform a fly over during Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium on February 1, 2009 in Tampa, Florida. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images Entertainment

It's a longstanding tradition for the U.S. Air Force or U.S. Navy to perform a flyover before every Super Bowl, but how much does such a thing cost American taxpayers?

In 2015, the Super Bowl flyover will cost about $1.25 for every one of the 63,000 football fans in attendance at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona, on Sunday, Feb. 1.

Put another way: The Super Bowl flyover costs taxpayers about $80,000 in gas and other operational costs.

"There is a minimal expense involved with the flyover," Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary and spokesman for the secretary of Defense, said days before the 2015 NFL championship game between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. "I think the whole thing, soup to nuts for the flyover, will cost something in the neighborhood of $80,000."

Why the Military Performs Flyovers

The Department of Defense says the Air Force flyovers are a form of public relations and are conducted at “events of national prominence.”

"It's not an exorbitant cost, and I would, you know, obviously remind you that we stand to gain the benefit," Kirby said. "And there's an exposure benefit from having the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly over, a well-known, famous team, and that certainly helps us in terms of keeping our exposure out there for the American people."

Added Kirby: "I think they're very popular, these flyovers."

The Defense department receives more than 1,000 requests for flyovers at sporting events every year. The Thunderbirds and other teams accept many of them, including for NASCAR races and important baseball games.

The U.S. Navy's Blue Angels have done some of the Super Bowl flyovers, as well, including one in 2008 over a domed stadium.

No one inside saw the flyover, though television viewers did for about 4 seconds. 

"For the publicity aspect of it, I'd say it's definitely well worth it when you consider the cost to advertise during the Super Bowl. The more people see our blue jets and recognize the Navy, the better it is for us," Blue Angels press officer Capt. Tyson Dunkelberger told The Lost Angeles Times in 2008.

Debate Over Super Bowl Flyovers

Some critics call the Super Bowl flyover a waste of taxpayer money.

Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, writing about the 2011 Super Bowl flyover at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, said:

"For absurdity, how about those four Navy F-18s flying over the stadium - with its retractable roof closed? Everybody inside could only see the planes on the stadium's video screens. It was strictly a two-second beauty shot. Know what it cost taxpayers? I'll tell you: $450,000. (The Navy justifies the expense by saying it's good for recruiting.)"

Others have questions why the government is spending millions of dollars every year on the flyovers at the same time sequestration has slashed its budgets.

Related Story: What is Sequestration?

"If any portion of the defense department budget is going to be slashed, the act of flying planes over a crowded stadium would be the one to get rid of," wrote Mike Florio of NBC Sports.

" ... As a recruiting tool its value is questionable."