FBO Profile: Indy-area FBOs Score Big during Super Bowl XLVI

 - March 2, 2012, 12:40 AM

“Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor gloom of night…” With apologies to the U.S. Postal Service, that saying could have easily been the pre-Super Bowl mantra for every Indianapolis-area FBO. Remembering how a last-minute snowstorm blindsided last year’s Dallas-area FBOs, the folks in the Indy area weren’t taking any chances for a late blitz by Mother Nature. “We had the same storm hit here that hit Dallas last year, except it was worse here,” explained Drent Sarault, regional director, Million Air, Indianapolis International. “That’s our catalyst for this year’s preparation. We’re bringing in 10 de-icers and extra snow-removal equipment. We want to be ready for anything,” he told AIN before the event.

Most of the Indy airports and FBOs AIN contacted cited the added cost of contracting for additional equipment and de-icing chemicals as a reason for the higher landing/parking fees in place for the big game. Reports had some area facilities charging more than $400 a night for parking; none of the FBOs would confirm that. They did, however, say they were charging a “special event fee” to help cover the costs associated with providing customers exceptional service.

Major FBOs such as Million Air and Signature also brought in people from their other facilities to help, cutting into their bottom line. A few local hotels were reported to be jacking prices as much as 1,700 percent above normal winter rates in Indy. “We have more than 100 additional staff coming in for the event,” Sarault said. “We had to pay more than $85,000 in pre-paid hotel rooms and the like. You just can’t hire local temp services to fuel and marshal aircraft.” In fact, it was truly “all hands on deck” for Super Bowl week. Million Air president and CEO Roger Woolsey joined the de-icing and fueling team at its Indy location for the entire weekend.

The FBOs at the “big” airport weren’t the only ones taking their pre-game preparations seriously. In past years, corporate/business aircraft have landed at airports up to a two-hour drive from the host location, so every airport/FBO in the area was ready for action.

Andy Thimlar, president of Eagle Creek Aviation Services, located at Eagle Creek Airpark, said that even though the airport’s main runway is only 4,200 feet long, they expected to see a significant number of private aircraft fly in for the event. “Normal operational requirements for our FBO are multiplied by a factor of 10, all for a one-day event,” Thimlar said. “In addition, we have to make preparations for de-icing. That’s not something we normally do. It required coordination with numerous regulator groups and contracting for the equipment and de-icing fluids.”

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Pre-game planning for Indy FBOs started long before the Giants and Patriots even gathered for their fall training camps. “Last year, we sent our operations manager to Business Jet Center, an FBO we know at Love Field in Dallas,” said Andrea Montgomery, owner and vice president of Montgomery Aviation at Indianapolis Executive Airport. “He saw firsthand what it takes not just to pull off the event, but also to really give the best customer service. It’s our chance to introduce ourselves and our airport to many potential new customers.”

“Indianapolis hosts the Indy 500 and several Final Fours, but these are considered Tier 3 events where the Super Bowl is a Tier 1,” she added. “We started early on working with our airport engineering team mapping out a plan for the type of aircraft we could expect and the number we could realistically take care of. To us, it’s not how many, but the quality of service.”

Montgomery said Montgomery Aviation’s ramp reservations were filled about 10 days before the game. “We were taking names for any cancellations. We had one pilot who wanted parking for a GIV, but we didn’t have room,” she said. “I asked him if he had anything smaller and he said yes, they had a Citation they could use, so that’s what they came down in.” Reading accounts of price gouging, Steve Kacenski, chief pilot at BelAir Aviation, had this to say about Montgomery Aviation: “For the record, I was at Montgomery, and ramp fees etc were way below what I expected. The service, however, was way above what I thought could be possible under these busy circumstances. Their team, local ATC included, car rentals and services were off the excellence chart scale.”

When the aircraft arrived, the area FBOs made sure that the crews were treated exceptionally well. Signature and Million Air hosted elaborate hangar parties at their facilities at Indy International. One Citation crew that managed to attend both events came away impressed with what the two FBOs did. “They really went all out with the food and everything,” one pilot said. “I think there may have been a bit of a competition between the two. Whatever the reason, both parties were great.”

From the extensive pre-game preparations to the crew hangar parties and everything else, Super Bowl XLVI was the proverbial “big game” for Indy’s FBOs as well.

The Giants Weren’t the Only Winners in Indy

As the action at Lucas Oil Stadium was winding down, the teams manning the area FBOs were just swinging into action to tackle what they had been planning for for the best part of a year. As expected, the first wave of passengers started arriving at FBOs less than an hour after the final gun sounded. “We had coffee and doughnuts, newspapers and a personal letter from Indiana’s governor thanking them for coming, ready for every passenger,” Montgomery said. “This was our time to really shine with a lot of prospective customers.” While the weather wasn’t a factor in the pre-game arrivals, temperatures dipped low enough that they did de-ice departing aircraft. “It added a few minutes to each departure, but everyone was out of here by 2:30 a.m.–just like we planned,” Montgomery said.

All totaled, according to FlightAware.com there were nearly 650 departures out of the area between the end of the game and early Monday afternoon. A quick phone survey showed that except for some slight delays for de-icing operations, all the airports were running close to schedule.

From fan arrival to departure, as far as anyone can tell Super Bowl XLVI operations went so smoothly that the only negative comments were aimed at inflated landing and parking fees. But as one Citation pilot put it, “Our owner is a big Giants fan, and he wasn’t complaining about anything.”