Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tampa's Flight Plan Keeps Game Traffic under Control Jacksonville Takes Note for 2005 Blitz

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tampa's Flight Plan Keeps Game Traffic under Control Jacksonville Takes Note for 2005 Blitz

Article excerpt

TAMPA -- Even before the rush of the Baltimore Ravens defense sealed the team's Super Bowl victory Sunday night, a rush by football fans leaving for home had started at Tampa International Airport.

But unlike the passing plans of the New York Giants, the Tampa area's plan to manage air traffic on one of the city's busiest weekends worked almost flawlessly.

Throughout the day yesterday, thousands of people who had come to watch the National Football League championship game filed onto planes and left with little or no difficulty, sometimes surprising passengers who expected airport gridlock.

"We thought there'd be a mass exodus," said Todd Walker, who arrived at Tampa's main airport two hours early to avoid missing his flight to Boston.

Instead, he and Chris Beijar, both marketing managers from New Hampshire, wandered around a sedate cluster of airport gift shops, killing time because there were no crowds to fight.

Tampa's lessons in controlling game-related air traffic will help Jacksonville airport managers map a plan for handling their own tourist influx when the Super Bowl is held at Alltel Stadium in February 2005. Already, Jacksonville's chief air planner said he's getting ideas.

"We were just concentrating on the logistics," said John Clark, the Jacksonville Port Authority's aviation vice president. "But talking to these people, there is so much more to it that we didn't think about."

The Super Bowl drew about 100,000 visitors to Tampa -- maybe more -- and many arrived by plane.

Tampa's situation may not be directly comparable to Jacksonville's, because flights were dispersed between several relatively large airports. Airports from Sarasota to Orlando absorbed some of the traffic, said Brenda Geohagen, a Tampa International spokeswoman.

But there also were common challenges, such as managing an invasion of privately chartered jets that delivered VIPs. About 350 private aircraft parked on a closed runway at Tampa International, and about 200 more landed at nearby St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, where two runways were closed to provide plane parking.

Those started leaving before the game was over, and airport managers had to follow a timetable of staggered flights to get them all in the air.

"After the game, you'd think we were staging a runway in Desert Storm. It was just jet after jet after jet," said Bob Cooper, the general manager and a partner in Air-1, a charter air service at St. Petersburg-Clearwater.

About 80 percent of the private planes at the airport departed by 8:30 a.m. yesterday, Cooper said.

At Tampa International, almost 200 planes booked takeoff times Sunday night or just after midnight. Another 150 scheduled departures that began about dawn yesterday. Planes left every minute or two.

Clark said he hopes to handle private planes without shutting down any runways at Jacksonville International Airport. …

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