When the big show hits town
How FBOs and pilots prepare for high-density operations.
It's not just FBOs that prepare for major events. Caterers such as Rudy's Inflight Catering (whose IAD facility is shown here), ground transportation companies and other service providers call in additional staff and resources when big events are scheduled.
Waxman recalls the difficulties of what seemed like a simple post-game passenger pick up after Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego CA. "We had a permit-a landing slot-for SAN (Lindbergh, San Diego CA). But, because of the congestion that had developed, they had no place to park additional arriving airplanes-even those that had approval to land.
Instead, ATC diverted us to wherever they could get us to go. In our case, we went to SDM (Brown, San Diego CA)." He continues, "We even offered to sit out over the ocean and hold, as we had plenty of fuel. Oddly, they wouldn't accommodate us.
Instead, ATC says, 'Unable-what are your intentions?' So we diverted to SDM and sat there-for 4 hours. Our customers simply couldn't be found among the masses of humanity that came to the FBO after the game."
After passing the hurdle of getting the airplane to the airport via the myriad ATC routings associated with a major event, one item in particular takes priority after the passengers have departed-fuel.
Without question, if there is any intention to purchase fuel for the departure leg out of the event, a fuel order should be placed the moment the chocks are in place, even if the event involves an overnight stay.
While sitting overnight with a heavy fuel load can be problematic for an operator, not ordering fuel until departure creates just as big a problem in the form of a major delay. Randy Gause says, "The day of the event itself is going to be an absolute zoo.
You may be parked on a closed taxiway a mile from the FBO, where it takes hours to get fuel. Try to get fueling knocked out of the way on arrival so when the day of departure comes it's one less thing to do."
For an event involving inclement weather, Waxman is emphatic: "If there's any chance of frozen precipitation falling, and you can't get your airplane in a hangar, fly your aircraft out of there and find a hangar for it. You just can't expect an FBO to fuel and deice 250 airplanes at once. It's not realistic."
'You're number 127 for departure'
One of the better known nuances of the mass exodus of departure from a major event is the dreaded engine start list. Waxman continues, "You get your clearance and then you go over to an engine start list. When you call up, ATC might respond 'You're number 30 for engine start.'
The key though, is that when they start going down that list, if you don't respond when they call you to start engines, or if you're not ready with the door closed, they'll move on to the next airplane and move you to the bottom of that list."
The lesson to be learned is to ensure one crewmember is always monitoring the frequency. Gabe Miller recalls the departure from SDL after Super Bowl XLII. "We were well over number 120 for IFR departure," he says.
"Literally one airplane was taking off every 3 or 4 minutes, and in doing the math we came to the conclusion that our delay could be indefinite. We concluded, 'We may not get out of here tonight if we depart IFR.'"
Piedmont Hawthorne IAD (now a Landmark facility) played host to literally hundreds of aircraft on Jan 21, 2005 during the last inauguration, as did Signature IAD. Simple planning techniques, such as fueling on arrival to an event, reap benefits on departure by preventing delays.
After a few hours of consideration, updating weather, poring over charts and determining there were no TFRs that would conflict, Miller made a radio call: "Ground, we're going to go VFR, northwest departure."
Almost incredibly, despite lines of aircraft, they were airborne and climbing to 16,500 ft only minutes later. While obviously not all operators can take advantage of this practice, the departure leg was Part 91 and conditions were safe.
For those stuck departing IFR that evening, another pilot, speaking anonymously, recalls, "There were two things going on-the Part 135 pilots were running out of duty time, while other pilots, stuck sitting on the taxiway 50 airplanes deep and waiting for departure, were running out of gas. What a mess."
Generally, a successful operation to and from a major event is a matter of perspective and a function of setting reasonable expectations. Another pilot offers unique but sound advice: "You have to go in with a mindset-yes, the worst is most likely going to happen, and your delays will be interminable at best.
But if you go in that mindset, you often come out of there actually feeling relieved that it could have been so much worse." For pilots and FBOs alike, perhaps the simplest yet often overlooked recommendation is just being well-rested beforehand-in other words, recognizing that it's going to be a long day.
Beyond setting somewhat low expectations, there are always a few simple tricks that go a long way toward success and, importantly, an enjoyable experience in flying to a major event. Aside from fueling on arrival, the most commonly cited recommendation is to extend the trip by arriving a day early and leaving a day late.
While not always possible, Gause advises, "Go in a day early and have your VIPs attend the pre-event functions. Or stay late, attend a postfunction event, get a good night's sleep and depart late the next day.
It's a win-win for everybody-the VIPs, the crews, the FBO infrastructure and ATC." In theory, while a drop-and-go of passengers to an event sounds like a good alternative to an overnight, Gause notes that in practice it's often fraught with problems.
The secret, he says, is setting passenger expectations: "Try to educate your people as to how the system works-what you're up against as a captain to get them to their destination." There are tools available that can minimize the chances of ever experiencing a delay.
NBAA's Carr notes that association members can opt for notifications of airspace alerts which come directly from the NBAA GA desk at the FAA ATC Command Center. NBAA employs 5 people at the Command Center 7 days a week to originate airspace alert e-mails, which call out high-interest items to NBAA operators that affect access to airspace and airports.
For instance, rapidly changing airport conditions due to weather or runway closures that will affect capacity will be sent in an airspace alert-as may VIP movements affecting access. All major events are an opportunity for industry stakeholders to come together and work toward a common purpose-the safe and efficient movement of people and aircraft during high-density operations.
As Scottsdale Air Center's Walker notes, major events bring out the best in FBOs and generate "an enormous sense of pride among line service employees who participate." For pilots, while flying to and from these events can be stressful, that same esprit de corps is there, making for great experiences that are not soon forgotten.
Douglas Wilson started as a lineman at JGG (Williamsburg VA). An active pilot, he now serves as director of line operations and customer service for Galvin Flying Services at BFI (Boeing Field, Seattle WA).
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