Landing a Super Bowl

by Chris Snyder

An event as big as the Super Bowl tends to generate a lot of air traffic, and making it all run smoothly takes careful planning. In fact, it takes more than a year of careful planning to coordinate more than 1,200 general aviation reservations to park more than 800 aircraft on the ground for just one day! As chair of the Super Bowl Host Committee’s Aviation Fixed-Based Operator Outreach Subcommittee, I was afforded the opportunity as a professional consultant in the aviation industry to participate in this intense planning effort, which had an incredible team of volunteers.

While there have been many Super Bowls at many different cities, and Indianapolis has hosted major events, Indianapolis had never hosted this event or anything to this magnitude. What differentiates Indianapolis from other Super Bowl host cities is that it only has one airport (Indianapolis International) within a 30-mile radius of the city with a dual runway and air traffic control tower. To overcome this challenge, there was a much higher level of coordination required with the surrounding 15 airports and regulating agencies. And realizing early on that the Super Bowl experience for air travelers would begin and end at these airports, we set out to engage with these regional partners regularly and often to ensure airport readiness and create a positive visitor experience from the time of departure to Indianapolis and upon arriving back home.

According to a recent Indianapolis Star article, “a report to the Airport Authority Board on Friday indicated the Super Bowl generated a one-day record of 24,574 passengers through the Col. H. Weir Cook Terminal on Feb. 6, the day following the game, compared with a typical day of 10,000 or previous record days of 18,000 for the Indianapolis 500.” Super Bowl air traffic at some general aviation airports realized 200 to 600% in increased aircraft operations compared to normal operating periods of past years, requiring runways and taxiways to be closed for parking. Providing this many visitors with a positive and safe experience was obviously no small task.

Planning not only involved accommodating the volume of travelers and aircraft, it also involved providing communication tools such as websites for pilots, the Federal Aviation Administration, and airports as well NFL flight accommodations, welcome desks for the 75 volunteers at the 16 airports, ground transportation planning, merchandising, FAA inspections and checklists, homeland security coordination, and weather-related planning (equipment and compliance) for the region and individual airports. For example, because Indianapolis International was the only major commercial airport in the immediate area, temporary air traffic control towers were needed to deal with air traffic to eliminate significant delays and improve safety. Also, with assistance from the Indiana Department of Transportation, our committee helped the regional airports obtain temporary deicing approval from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to ensure compliance with pollutant discharge mandates. All this behind-the-scenes coordination was critical to the success of the event, which we anticipate will continue to have enormous potential to positively impact Indiana’s economy. And that impact is still being quantified weeks after the event.