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America's Airports: Super SundayAmerica's Airports: Super Sunday

GA competes for ramp spaceGA competes for ramp space

Deer Valley Airport (DVT), Phoenix, Arizona, February 3, 2008 There was plenty of competition in Phoenix the weekend of February 2 and 3. Professional golfers competed in the FBR Phoenix Open; professional football teams from New England and New York competed in Super Bowl XLII; and small airplanes and local businesses competed with a large number of visiting and transient aircraft for ramp parking space and for air traffic control services.

Airliners move to the
head of the line at PHX

What does the battle between the airlines and GA over user fees have to do with the Super Bowl? Plenty, as it turns out. GA aircraft departing from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport were directed to pull out of the takeoff line so that scheduled airline aircraft could depart first should have been no surprise to those who read the notams governing traffic during Super Bowl weekend.

Yet one airline captain who was at the controls of a scheduled airliner flying out of the Sky Harbor Airport on Monday, February 4, was surprised. The captain, in a letter to AOPA President Phil Boyer (in which he requested anonymity), reported that GA aircraft at Sky Harbor were directed on Sunday and Monday’s ATIS to contact clearance delivery for an engine start time. Start times permitted ATC to control GA airplane departure times to prevent delays for scheduled airline takeoffs. The pilot also said that the PHX tower “instructed the Citation in front of us to pull aside and let us pass. Exactly the opposite of ATA’s cartoon airplanes!” He continued, “Even when large numbers of GA aircraft are present at air carrier hubs (an exceedingly rare occurrence) ATC favors the airlines.”

Based on ATA’s claims that GA is the cause of delays, and the pilot’s view of the reality of hub operations, he concluded, “The ATA, and their member airlines, are a pack of bald-faced liars. There is no other way to characterize their attempts to demonize GA and make it bear an inappropriate share of the funding burden of FAA operations and modernization.”

This eyewitness to the fact that it’s the airlines that get priority handling at hub airports proves once again what AOPA has been saying all along—airlines have dismal performance records because of their scheduling practices and because of weather, not because GA airplanes receive special treatment from ATC.— SWE

Deer Valley Airport (DVT), Phoenix, Arizona, February 3, 2008

There was plenty of competition in Phoenix the weekend of February 2 and 3. Professional golfers competed in the FBR Phoenix Open; professional football teams from New England and New York competed in Super Bowl XLII; and small airplanes and local businesses competed with a large number of visiting and transient aircraft for ramp parking space and for air traffic control services. After more than a year of planning for the events, the upshot was that local pilots, FBOs, and city employees bent over backward to accommodate the visitors.

The week preceding the Super Bowl started on an ominous note when a local television station sting concluded that “small” airplane pilots and owners are either ignorant or apathetic about airport security after the news crews found three unlocked general aviation airplanes as they walked unimpeded on three local airport ramps. But the news crews were not able to gain access to the Deer Valley Airport (DVT) ramp. DVT logged more than 406,000 operations in 2006, wresting the title of the busiest GA airport in the country away from Van Nuys. There are 1,400 airplanes based at DVT. On Super Bowl Sunday, DVT was a different kind of busy when the small-airplane sound of piston power clawing its way skyward was replaced by the big airplane whoosh and thrum from more than 100 turbine-powered aircraft that flew in that day.

The TFR and the flight schools

A temporary flight restriction (TFR) limited flight operations for a couple of hours before and a couple of hours after the big game at the two airports closest to the stadium. The TFR established three circles with radii of two, 10, and 30 miles from the center of the stadium. The TFR permitted unrestricted flight into and out of airports located in the airspace between the 10- and 30-mile circles at any time during Super Bowl Sunday as long as they remained outside a 10-mile radius and were on VFR or IFR flight plans. DVT is 14 miles from the stadium.

The Phoenix terminal radar approach control also issued Letter to Airmen No. 08-01 for a 12-day period from Sunday, January 28, through Friday, February 8. The letter cited the expectation of “a significant increase in transient air traffic at all airports in the Phoenix area.” Additionally it said, “This traffic increase and resulting air traffic controller workload may occasionally impact air traffic control services in the Phoenix, Arizona, terminal area.”

An FAA Security Event Flight Advisory prohibited flight training anywhere within the TFR so the two flight schools at DVT suspended flight operations on Sunday, February 3. Flight schools in the area also agreed to stand down on Monday, February 4, because of the high volume of departing IFR traffic and the resulting demand on ATC services. The Pan Am International Flight Academy moved most of its 70-airplane fleet to the north side of the airport to provide parking for transient traffic.

According to Bill Mulvill of Pan Am, the flight academy’s ab initio training program accounts for 70 percent of DVT’s average traffic. Pan Am flew a normal schedule of 130 flights on Friday, but restricted Saturday flying to morning cross-country flights only. The other flight school, Westwind School of Aeronautics, also flew a limited schedule on Saturday. Westwind’s scenic air tours and charter business, which flies Cessna Grand Caravans on aerial tours of the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley to the north of the Phoenix area, maintained a normal flight schedule on Saturday.

Gayle Lurenz, director of marketing for Westwind’s Air Tour and Charter department, said their Saturday charter schedule was busier than usual because of the extra tourist population in town for the football game but, about Sunday, said, “Tomorrow’s going to be very quiet for us.”

The FBOs

The two FBOs, Cutter Aviation and Atlantic Aviation, devoted a lot of time and energy ensuring they were ready to make a good impression on the visiting dignitaries, sports personalities, flight crews, and fans who would be visiting. This opportunity arose because nearby Scottsdale Airport sits adjacent to the course where the annual FBR Phoenix Open professional golf tournament was held and its ramp was already partially filled with airplanes. Both Matthew F. Wright, the general manager, and Michelle Germaine, manager of customer relations and concierge at Atlantic Aviation, had been part of Atlantic’s six-month-long facility upgrade and said Atlantic was ready for business. “We have taken 130 turbine aircraft parking reservations and we’re maxed out,” said Wright. Atlantic brought in three additional Jet-A fuel trucks for the week. “Usually half of our fuel sales are 100LL. We’re the only Atlantic facility where that’s the case,” said Wright. That ratio changed considerably during Super Bowl week with one DVT FBO reporting pumping what would normally be three months’ worth of Jet A in three days. Germaine had five extra customer service specialists from other Atlantic locations to provide white-glove treatment for the visiting jet crowd.

Piston-powered parking?

Aaron Davis, the ramp manager at Cutter Aviation, was asked about the availability of parking space for single-engine piston-powered airplanes. Davis answered that Cutter was taking reservations for turbine-powered airplanes and would provide parking for piston-powered aircraft on a first-come, first-served basis. Around 120 turbine-powered aircraft parked at DVT, with around 200 additional aircraft using the airport to drop off or pick up passengers. Scottsdale parked 250 aircraft with 350 turns; while Swift Aviation Services at Sky Harbor International airport reported handling 455 transient turbine aircraft between Thursday and Monday. Based on preliminary numbers, it appears that more than 1,000 turbine GA aircraft occupied ramp space at one of the Valley of the Sun airports during Super Bowl weekend. In spite of these big numbers, there were plenty of transient parking spaces at DVT.

The airplane watchers

As early as 9:30 on Sunday morning the observation deck above the airport restaurant was beginning to fill up with airplane watchers. Snug in a corner out of the wind was a group of men holding pens and scribbling in small, well-thumbed notebooks. Whenever a turbine-powered airplane landed, one or more of the individuals in the group would raise his binoculars, read the airplane N number, and turn to the rest of the group and announce it. Then they would all write down the number in their individual notebooks. I asked what they were doing.

“Have you ever heard of plane spotters?” asked Keith Dowd, who said he was one of a group of more than 160 who had flown in from London. Dowd explained that plane spotters are hobbyists who “collected” airplane registration numbers. Dowd was on his seventy-third plane-spotting trip to the United States. One of the crowd, Brian Birch, claimed to have collected more than 11,000 tail numbers.

After some grumbling about the strict security at the Scottsdale Airport, where they had been told to curtail their plane-spotting activities, Birch pulled out a card issued to qualified plane spotters by the British constabulary. “We know more about airplanes than the police do, so in England they issue us these cards. We call them if we see anything that’s fishy when we’re plane spotting,” said Birch.

The group was visiting Phoenix because the combination of the Super Bowl and the FBR Phoenix Open promised to be a big airplane-spotting weekend. “Last year we went to the Miami Boat Show and didn’t see a boat all week,” volunteered Neil Martin, who started plane spotting 20 years ago at age four. Other members of the group included Dave Hutt, Viv Barton, and Steve Backshall.

Locals, too

Dick Prenovost and his wife, Joan, stood together on the observation deck. The elderly couple had ventured up to the deck to watch airplanes. Prenovost explained, “We came out last year, and a pilot came over and asked if we would like a ride. He took us for a ride in his airplane, and it was wonderful. We’d like to get another one some day.”

AOPA member Steven Prieser is vice president and chief financial officer of Cutter Sky Harbor, but on Super Bowl Sunday he traded his slacks and white shirt for a warm jacket, bright orange vest, hearing protection, and a ramp frequency radio. He spent the day running Cutter’s ramp operations at DVT. He was filling in for Davis, who was recovering from shoulder surgery. Davis, to his dismay, had been relegated to watching over the barbecue, soft drinks, cookies, and chips available in the large hangar Cutter had converted into a hospitality center for the day.

It was cold and windy on the ramp but Prieser looked like he was enjoying being in the center of the action. When asked whether local pilots were griping about the Super Bowl flight restrictions, Prieser said he hadn’t heard any complaints. According to Prieser, “The aviation community is very supportive of this. This is a very good day for the company.” Prieser knocked off at 11:30 p.m. “It was fun until it started raining,” he said.

Carl Ulbrich spent the morning hours of his Super Bowl Sunday looking at a Cessna 182 he was considering buying in partnership with a friend from his church. “We’re looking at a 1973 182 with 700 hours since major overhaul on the engine. Do you have any idea what its worth?” asked Ulbrich. Ulbrich owns a communications company in Glendale and is a commercial pilot who has multiengine, instrument, and glider ratings. He’s working to become a certificated flight instructor. When asked about the TFRs he said, “It hasn’t bothered me at all.”

Airport Support Network volunteers

Art Rosen was AOPA’s ASN volunteer for DVT and is on the Scottsdale Airport advisory board. Rosen also served on the Super Bowl Committee for Aviation. In spite of months of planning there were the inevitable glitches that always accompany an event of this size. The television “unlocked airplane” exposé coupled with the reporter’s unfettered access to three airports in the area was not good.

A letter written by the interim manager of Glendale Municipal Airport informing airport users of a plan to severely limit access to the airport during the week aroused so much anger and backlash from resident pilots that they formed an airport users group with the help of ASN volunteer Roger Whittier. The manager was replaced, and calmer heads prevailed. (At the end of January AOPA appointed Dr. Joel Colley as the ASN volunteer for Scottsdale.)

Because of airspace saturation, two-hour delays were not unusual at DVT late Sunday evening. The only other glitch was a four-hour delay for Monday departures because of an equipment failure in the Albuquerque air route traffic control center.

All in all, DVT’s management, staff, FBOs, Phoenix approach control, and the tower crew did a fine job of hosting all the visitors who traveled to the airport for a Super Bowl Sunday in the life of DVT, general aviation’s busiest airport.

E-mail the author at [email protected].

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