Super Bowl Coming in for a Landing

January 2018

This week, the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots are arriving in Minnesota to play the 52nd Super Bowl at the US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. According to the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), they will be joined by about 50,000 commercial airline passengers and more than 1,100 private aircraft. How does the Minneapolis/ St. Paul International Airport (MSP) and its six reliever airports handle a one of a kind event like this?

Lawrence Harting, General Manager and Vice President of Flight Operations for Elliott Aviation, has a pretty good idea about how it might go. Not only has he been actively involved in the planning over the last eighteen months, but he also had the chance to go through a test run with another event in September 2016 – The Ryder Cup Match at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota.

Hazeltine lies a mere seven miles (as the jet flies) from Flying Cloud Airport, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. An estimated 250,000 guests flocked to watch the Ryder Cup over a five day period, and Flying Cloud Airport was front and center as one of the closest landing spots for private aircraft. Even though there was an outstanding NOTAM prohibiting aircraft over-flying the golf course, attendees could see a steady stream of jets flying above the action, all descending straight toward Flying Cloud. Elliott Aviation was squarely in the middle of things and Harting is justifiably proud of how they handled the influx of people and aircraft.

He estimates that they had an average of 60 aircraft parked at any given time over the five days and they set all kinds of records. “We had a single day record of selling 8,000 gallons of jet fuel, a one week record of approximately 30,000 gallons and a month record of 80,000 gallons.” He believes that Elliott’s fuel sales accounted for about 45% to 50% of the fuel sales at the airport overall.

The planning for the Ryder Cup was not unlike the planning for the Super Bowl. Working in conjunction with MAC, Elliott and other FBOs at Flying Cloud planned ahead for landing an unusually high number of corporate jets. Taxi ways and other spaces are being closed to allow for parking well in excess of usual levels. For the Ryder Cup and for the coming week, Elliott has brought in extra staff from its other locations, particularly Moline and Des Moines.

Some things this week are expected to be very different from the Ryder Cup event, and many of those differences are seasonal. The Ryder Cup was held in lovely, early fall weather, and extended parking was common among incoming travelers. With the wintery temperatures expected this week, the Twin Cities are expected to see many more ‘drop and go’ flights, as the passengers disembark and the aircraft take off again to further removed (and maybe warmer) parking destinations.

Harting expects fuel sales to outpace those of the Ryder Cup days, and they have stocked up accordingly. In addition, however, he has just positioned an extra 1,500 gallons of ethylene glycol deicing fluid.

One other difference between Ryder Cup planning and the Super Bowl is that the FAA and the Super Bowl Committee have cooperated to create a landing slot reservation system for incoming flights at MSP and the six Twin City reliever airports over the next week. According to Harting, these slots were essentially sold out as of last week. The same is true in terms of hotels, house rentals and ground transportation accommodations, many of which have been fully booked for months.

Asked if he thought that the Super Bowl hyper-activity would scare off his usual customers, Harting laughed and said absolutely not. He expects many to stay close and attend the festivities and some that will be incoming as well. He gave the example of one customer that just left last week for an extended stay in southeast Asia. For one reason or another, though, he happens to be flying back into town the day before the big game.

And does Harting have any advice for incoming travelers? He says that he has been advising people for some time now to dress warm and to make their arrangements as far in advance as possible. Now that the event is here, though, his main advice is to “expect to pay as much as you have to” because your options are few and expensive. Oh, and don’t forget to dress warm.

This is the second article of a two-part series titled “Transportation and Super Bowl LII.” Click here to read the first article.