Phoenix FBOs Score Big at Super Bowl XLIX

 - February 5, 2015, 10:25 AM
Phoenix-area FBOs handled nearly 1,100 business and general aviation operations over Super Bowl weekend. Shown here: Cutter at Sky Harbor during the game. (Photo: Barry Ambrose)

Business and general aviation passengers coming to Super Bowl XLIX in The Valley of the Sun faced more weather issues than at last year’s game in New York, but the area FBOs handled the traffic spike and the unusual weather conditions–in this case fog–with few problems, thanks to long-range planning.

Phoenix-area airports (those within 30 nm of the stadium) report handling some 1,060 different aircraft from Saturday through Monday, accounting for 1,972 operations in the three-day period, according to data provided by FlightAware.

In the days leading up to the game “we were pretty worried about getting our customers in,” one FBO representative told AIN, adding, “We had rain and low visibility on Thursday and Friday and then thick fog on Sunday morning. It felt more like London than Arizona.”

The biggest challenge was the fog on Sunday morning, reported Carl Brandenburg, operations manager for Glendale Air Services (GEU). “You could not get into here or Goodyear [GYR] until noon on Sunday. In 20 years, I’ve never seen fog this bad at eleven in the morning here.”

“We received a few diversions here early Sunday afternoon that could not get into Goodyear, but [the fog] still cost us 20 or so arrivals,” he said. “We ended up with 75 or so airplanes on the ground at game time. Because we are so close to the stadium a lot of our traffic was people coming in right before the game and leaving right after.”

Weather-related diversions were a common theme for every FBO contacted for this story.

“While the storm that hit the East Coast didn’t affect our departures Sunday and Monday, it did impact us on the inbounds. We think we had a 10- to 15-percent loss of activity because of that,” explained James Schulte, general manager of Atlantic (DVT). Nonetheless, he reported that approximately 170 aircraft passed through the facility and “probably 100 or so were static here on the field during the game.”

Cutter Aviation at Sky Harbor (SKY) reported that arrivals were 15 percent short of expectations because of weather. “We had a lot of ground delays for inbound traffic,” said Richard Campbell, Jr., regional manager of Cutter Aviation (SKY and DVT). “I think it was up to five hours on Saturday out of Boston and a three-hour delay out of Seattle. That kept some from showing up.”

Campbell said Cutter handled 118 at Sky Harbor and another 86 at Deer Valley. “I think there were another 20 or so reservations that did not show,” he said. “We had five just overfly us on Sunday and go to Las Vegas and stay there for the game.”

The Signature Scottsdale (SDL) facility had a “fantastic” Super Bowl weekend even with diversions spread over two days, reported general manager Greg Gibson. “Thursday through Monday we had more than 100 aircraft on the ground here at peak time. The rain and low visibility on Thursday and Friday slowed things down for the Phoenix Open [golf tournament],” he said. “But the fog at Sky Harbor on Sunday actually sent a few diversions over to us.”

Timothy Berger, managing partner at Lux Air Jet Center at Goodyear Airport (GYR), said that the fog on Sunday halted the FBO’s morning arrivals. “We do not have an ILS approach and our first arrivals didn’t get in until 12:30,” he said. “We lost 25 or 30 arrivals that morning. Prior to that we had 270 reservations and a lot of aircraft coming in from the east could not land here. We ended up with 135 aircraft on the ground through the weekend.”

Lessons Learned from 2008

All the FBOs interviewed gave much of the credit for the success of this year’s event to changes made after their experience hosting aircraft attending the game in 2008, the last time Phoenix hosted the Super Bowl. One of the biggest was the implementation of a prior permission required (PPR) system for departures.

 “In 2008 all the pilots and passengers showed up at once and wanted to leave at the same time. Everything got all backed up on the taxiways and holding areas,” Campbell said. “The PPR eliminated that problem this year. Even when we learned about delays going east, we were able to email our customers and give them options to change their PPR to an earlier or later time to avoid the delays,” he said. “We knew where each aircraft was going and based on what the tower was telling us we gave the crews information to minimize their wait time.”

All the area FBOs started their planning earlier this time, too. “We had six months’ worth of actual planning,” said Ryan Reeves, general manager for Lux Air Jet Centers. “We had meetings with the FAA, air traffic controllers, LA and Albuquerque Centers, local FAA folks, airport managers, the City of Phoenix; everyone was involved with the planning.”