Bizjets Flock To the Big Easy for NFL’s Big Game

 - March 3, 2013, 1:55 AM

While many may not recall the last time the Super Bowl was played in New Orleans in 2002, images from the early days after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in 2005 remain stark, as the city’s iconic Super Dome, home to nine previous Super Bowls, did duty as an emergency shelter for thousands. Wind damage to the building had experts calling for its demolition for months after the storm. But on Sunday, February 3, all that was forgotten as more than 73,000 fans filled the refurbished Mercedes-Benz Super Dome to be a part of Super Bowl XLVII, the biggest welcome back party the “Big Easy” had ever hosted.

“New Orleans is an event city, so we host a lot of big things. Last year alone we had the Sugar Bowl, the NCAA basketball tournament and, of course, Mardi Gras,” explained Jay Taffet, general manager of Hawthorne Global Aviation Services at Lakefront Airport. “They all bring in a lot of corporate and private jet traffic. What we planned for the Super Bowl was all these events rolled into one week.”

Drawing on past experience, the New Orleans Super Bowl Host Committee predicted nearly 1,000 business and personal aircraft would arrive at the city’s area airports over Super Bowl week. The final tally was probably pretty close: FlightAware tracked some 700 GA departures from Lakefront and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International airports within 24 hours of the game, and that doesn’t include all the stop-and-drops the week prior.

“We actually drew heavily from our experience hosting the NBAA Convention at PDK in 2011,” said Kurt Schmidt, Atlantic Aviation’s senior regional manager at Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY). “It paid off, too. We were pushing to get our facility remodeling finished and the NBAA experience really helped us make our Super Bowl planning more efficient.”

Addie Fanguy, the general manager at Landmark Aviation’s FBO at Lakefront Airport, said that the facility had more than 200 RON (remain overnight) reservations nearly two weeks before kickoff. “We’re expecting to have over 350 aircraft here at our facility before the game starts,” he said. “That’s not counting all the drop-and-goes from charter and fractionals.” After the game the FBO reported that it had hosted approximately 325 aircraft.

The pre-game planning at Landmark included a number of calls from operators wanting to fly up from Mexico. “We don’t have a Customs office here at Lakefront at this time, so I told them they would have to plan to clear somewhere in Texas or Mississippi,” he said. “I had been told that the Customs office at MSY [Louis Armstrong International] would not be handling private aircraft before the game.”

Patrick Sniffen, vice president of marketing for Signature Flight Support, told AIN a week before the game that the company’s facility at Louis Armstrong International Airport was already sold out for RON parking space and that it had created a waiting list for any last-minute cancellations. In the end, Signature hosted 100 mostly large-cabin business jets.

Keeping the Crews Happy

For the FBOs, their efforts were all about giving arriving passengers and crew the best overall experience they could. “The pilots flying in will be under a lot of stress due to scheduling, traffic and all,” Taffet said. “Then they have to depart somewhere between midnight and 3 a.m. It’s tough on the crews, and our goal is to make it as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.”

All the FBOs interviewed said they were pulling out all the stops to give crews and passengers a first-rate experience from the moment the wheels stopped. All the facilities hosted a party for the crews during the game, and their intent was to give the entire festivities true New Orleans flavor.

While great food, Bourbon Street-style non-alcoholic beverages, contests and prizes were all part of the special preparations at Lakefront, there was one thing they prepared for and were glad they didn’t have to use. The three FBOs and airport split the $18,000 bill for having a large crane on site for the week, Fanguy said. “Since we were going to have only one long runway open, we wanted to be ready to get any disabled aircraft out of the way as quickly as possible.”

Thankfully, the crane never left its parking spot. In fact, according to everyone AIN interviewed the only thing unusual was that nothing unusual happened. “We had brought in about 20 people from other Signature facilities who had all worked Super Bowls before,” Sniffen said. “They did a great job of making sure everything was seamless.”

“Everything came off exactly as we expected. We had a plan and our team executed it perfectly,” Atlantic’s Schmidt noted. “No problems at all, other than sunburn and some sore feet.” Over the span of four days before and after the game, the facility handled more than 350 aircraft.

By Monday, the mass exodus of business aircraft had slowed to a trickle, leaving the FBO personnel tired but happy. “Our pilot party started at 2 on Sunday afternoon,” Taffet said. “The food from Killer Po’ Boys was a huge hit with the visiting pilots and our crew. And they needed it. Our team didn’t stop until the last airplane left here at around 3 on Monday afternoon.” As for any “team affinity fallout” Taffet said that from what he observed no one came away from Super Bowl XLVII with anything but great feelings. “It looked like everyone was a winner to me,” he said.

With the championship being held next year in the New York City area for the first time, Sniffen said Signature has begun its planning. “We’re already looking forward to hosting next year’s Super Bowl from our brand-new facility at Newark Liberty International [EWR],” he added. “We just hope the weather up there will be as good as it was down here.”