With the Super Bowl now ranked as the largest one-day sporting event in the country, managers at FBOs in the Dallas/Fort Worth area knew it would take months of careful planning to accommodate the approximately 4,000 people expected to arrive by private aircraft, and have their customers come away from Super Bowl XLV feeling like a winner.
For Business Jet Center at Dallas Love Field, pre-game planning started 15 months ago. “We did a lot of research and had a number of meetings with the North Texas Super Bowl Host Committeeπs aviation action team,” explained Jason Pons, manager of FBO operations. “We also met many times with the FAA’s D/FW Tracon, Love Field airport operations and the City of Dallas Division of Airport Operations. Planning was key.” Pons said that Business Jet Center did a lot of research with other FBOs that have previously catered to traffic attending a big event. “We picked their brains on as many topics as we could,” he said. Two areas in particular were crowd control and adequate parking for ground vehicles. “Crowd control is important,” he said. “Dealing with intoxicated, belligerent passengers was something we had been warned about.” (They had no instances with either this year.)
Patrick Sniffen, vice president of marketing for Signature Flight Support, said that while the staff at the company’s Love Field facility didn’t officially start planning until about six months before the event, they had the benefit of years of past Super Bowl experience. “Signature and its former companies Page Avjet and Butler Aviation have served Super Bowl host cities many times in our history. We had a considerable amount of experience from all those events,” he said.
It wasn’t only the in-town airport facilities that were prepping for the game; Mid-Way Regional Airport, located 25 miles from Dallas, began its preparations in September. “We were not only getting ready for the game, but also opening our new 6,500-foot runway, which would enable us to handle larger jets,” said Ken Lantz, partner in Southern Star Aviation, the airport’s FBO. “One big advantage our location offered was that we are outside the 10-mile no-fly zone, so airplanes could come and go anytime during the game as long as they were on a VFR or IFR flight plan.”
All of the FBO representatives shared their pre-game planning efforts covering everything from adding extra ground support staff to bringing in extra equipment such as chocks and parking cones. “We had a really good plan for personnel, equipment, services and security,” Pons said. “And we were completely ready to change it all on the fly.”
Despite the careful preparations, Mother Nature smashed the DFW area like a blind-side blitz in the week before the game; Northern Texas suffered with record snow, ice and cold that lasted up to the day before kickoff. “Tuesday morning Fort Worth got an ice storm that left two inches of solid ice on our ramp,” explained Reed Pigman, owner of Meacham International Airport FBO Texas Jet. “We dealt with it, but it took twice the manpower to do half the work all week.”
If the ice storm wasn’t enough, the Dallas/Fort Worth area was hit again early Thursday morning by a “significant” storm that left more than six inches of snow on the ground and caused hundreds of arrivals to be postponed until Saturday and even Sunday morning. Pigman said that the snow wasn’t that much of an issue. “Last fall we bought a snow plow attachment for one of our fuel trucks so we kept the ramp relatively clean.” Other FBOs scrambled to rent tractors and Bobcats with plow attachments.
While the FBOs could do something about the snow at their facilities, they couldn’t control how it affected their airport’s operations. Love Field was down to one runway for part of Thursday. “Snow made the taxiways impassable for a while and ATC was diverting aircraft to other airports. That cost us some business,” Pons said. “We just rolled with the punches. The weather just made everything much more difficult on everyone,” he said. “We had to toss out our parking plan and just do it on the fly.”
The nearest alternative for corporate traffic unable to land at Love turned out to be Addison Airport eight miles north, where crews had worked all night Thursday to have the runway ready for arrivals Friday morning. Addison braking action fluctuated by late Friday morning as more snow began, but never dropped below fair on the airportπs single 7,200-foot runway. Three FBOs (Landmark, Atlantic Aviation and Million Air) serve the airport. Clean-up continued through the day on Saturday.
Sunday morning another, last-minute rush began in earnest. Million Air, for example, saw about a dozen more arrivals–mostly midsize to large jets–by 1 p.m. While not clogged by any means, most of the FBO ramps at Addison were well stocked with heavy iron a few hours before the game began. Some were last-minute charters hired by people whoπd originally booked tickets on some of the 1,000 cancelled airline flights.
As the game wound down, the crush was just beginning for the Dallas FBOs. Before the celebration confetti had finished raining down on the champion Packers, hundreds of private and business aircraft were streaming into and out of the area’s airports, according to FlightAware.
“We had reservations for about 100 aircraft and more than half of those were scheduled to leave right after the game,” Pigman said. “All the aircraft were parked out on the closed parallel runway staged for departure. We shuttled the crews out to each aircraft, then as the passengers arrived, we checked them in and took them out to their aircraft. It would have been too much to try to bring the aircraft up to the FBO.”
Business Jet Center director Bill Moltenbrey said that pilots started arriving at the Love Field facility right after halftime and passengers were not far behind. “There was a big rush to leave even before the game ended. I think there was about an hour’s delay for departures from around 11:30 p.m. to 1:30 in the morning.”
The forecast for another approaching storm spurred a mad rush to leave the Dallas Metro area, turning Addison into a mini O’Hare, with as many as a dozen jets queuing for takeoff on Runway 33. Thanks to clear skies, delays from Addison never ran to more than 20 minutes.
Looking back, Moltenbrey said he would like to have been on hand at the FBOs serving Super Bowl traffic the previous year. “The operations manager from an FBO in Indianapolis (site of the 2012 Super Bowl) called and asked if he could come and help out this year. He spent four days with us and learned a lot. That was a great idea,” Moltenbrey said.
AIN’s informal poll of DFW-area FBOs showed that although the weather was a problem early in the week, only about 10 percent of the private jets with parking reservations cancelled. Even with the weather concerns, fractional business was strong. NetJets reported that it had more than 140 flights into and out of the area, which represented a 30-percent gain over flights to last yearπs event.