When PGA and pigskin pros and their fans converge on the Valley in February, they likely will arrive in as many as 1,000 executive jets and charter planes in addition to the regularly scheduled flights at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
And East Valley airports are preparing to be prime landing sites for VIP sports lovers. Super Bowl XLII will take the field at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale on Feb. 3, but dozens of events and parties throughout the Valley will precede the main event. Only 73,000 fans — most of them out-of-towners — will actually get a seat in the stadium, but tens of thousands more will come to the Valley to stage the events, and thousands more will show up just to be part of the excitement.
The Super Bowl XLII Host Committee formed a general aviation work group to sort out how and where to direct the anticipated onslaught of special flights, said Christina Estes, committee spokeswoman. When the Valley landed Super Bowl XXX in 1996, it also landed nearly 400 corporate and private jets and 40 30-seat or bigger chartered planes full of people en route to the big event, Estes said. Most recent Super Bowl host site Miami estimated that 800 to 1,000 extra aircraft arrived for the game and associated hoopla, she said.
The FBR Open — the most attended stop on the PGA Tour — will finish up on the same day as the gridiron kickoff, so the Valley should attract at least as many extra fly-in visitors as south Florida saw, Estes said.
Scottsdale Airport, a fairway-length from the Tournament Players Club where FBR Open events will tee off Jan. 28, expects to fill up with golf tourney attendees by midweek before the Super Bowl, aviation director Scott Gray said.
But he’ll still let nearly everybody who wants to drop off passengers land — as long as they don’t stay too long.
“For Super Bowl XXX, planes dropped off passengers and parked as far away as Las Vegas,” Gray said. “We’re working on places for quick turns where planes can drop off passengers, fuel and leave.”
He does not expect the lack of tie-down space to deter Super Bowl visitors.
“Most of the corporate executives want to come to Scottsdale,” Gray said.
Scottsdale Airport can handle the 30-seat charter planes, as well as the smaller executive jets, he said.
Mesa’s Williams Gateway Airport expects to be a big beneficiary of the Super Bowl, especially since Scottsdale Airport will be packed with planes of golfers and golf watchers, said David Valenzuela, Williams’ marketing and economic development manager.
The airport was a hit with Fiesta Bowl and Bowl Championship Series title game charters this year, he said, and NFL celebs like Emmitt Smith already know Williams and like to land at the hassle-free hub.
“We expect people will prefer this location,” Valenzuela said. “There is less congestion.”
Williams’ staff is working on plans with rental car agencies, targeting charter operators and creating lots of marketing brochures and ad ploys, said Matt Nebgen, manager of fixed base operations at the airport. Besides the anticipated volume of traffic leading up to game day, airport officials hope the Super Bowl could also be a springboard to attracting much-coveted scheduled services.
“We are probably the bestkept secret, and the Super Bowl can be a tool to put our name out there,” Nebgen said.
Just about 10 air miles north of Williams Gateway, Mesa’s Falcon Field also is getting ready for some super business around game day, said airport director Corinne Nystrom.
Williams can land about any size plane that wants to show up, but Falcon Field is limited to the eight- to 10-passenger executive planes, Nystrom said.
But the smaller airport already gets a lot of them — about 300,000 landings and takeoffs a year, she said. And Falcon Field has room for more.
Corporate pilots are already familiar with the north Mesa facility, and Nystrom expects them to direct a lot of Super Bowl business her way.
“I don’t think we’ll have to market it. They’ll just show up,” she said. “We’re putting together a game plan for parking more aircraft. We’re not at capacity now, and we can probably handle another 100 or so if we get creative.”
Like Nebgen at Williams, Nystrom sees the big game as a big opportunity for drumming up future business.
“We are going to market the East Valley, so hopefully some (corporate executives) will think about coming back and maybe even locating a business here,” she said. “We’re working with the Chamber of Commerce, Convention & Visitors Bureau and our fixed base operators to put together information packages about the area.”
Chandler Municipal Airport also expects to pick up some Super Bowl business, airport manager Greg Chenoweth said.
But parking planes there, like in Scottsdale, is the biggest problem. The airport is hoping to get fast Federal Aviation Administration approval to build a new apron, Chenoweth said. The expansion has already been designed and bid, he said. If the government gives its blessing soon, the apron can be completed in time for the Super Bowl arrivals, he said.
Otherwise, the airport may close a taxiway to park more planes, he said.
The Chandler hub is participating in the aviation committee to ensure it gets its share of traffic, he said.
Based on the number of extra planes expected in the Valley for that sports-centered week and the few airports in the area, Chenoweth said every local hub that wants to host Super Bowl arrivals should get a good share of them.