Super Bowl LIII is bringing increased air traffic to Gwinnett County Airport at Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville.
As the Super Bowl approaches, Airport Director Matthew Smith said airports around metro Atlanta are seeing an uptick in the number of people flying in for the game.
Smith said the Federal Aviation Administration set up a “slot” system for area airports during the days leading up to the Super Bowl as well as the day after it. People and companies flying in by private jet had to get a slot for arriving flights and departing flights between Tuesday of this week and the day after the big game.
As of Thursday afternoon, 410 slots had been filled and Smith expected that number to increase.
“After Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, the FAA looked at all of the arrivals that they had and they estimate there will be another 1,100 additional aircraft in the area for the Super Bowl,” Smith said. “They plotted a 30-mile radius around (Mercedes Benz Stadium) and within that 30-mile radius, and they counted all of the airports and all of the additional parking they had and it was about 900 spaces.
“So, that’s why we’re seeing increased activity (and) Athens is seeing increased activity because there is just not enough physical space for all of those people.”
There were 89 flight arrival reservations recorded for Saturday and Sunday alone, as of Thursday afternoon. In all, 203 flight arrival reservation slots had been filled for the period between Tuesday and Sunday afternoon for Briscoe Field, according to Smith. He estimated the airport averaged about 289 flights per day last year.
At the same time, a total of 207 flight departure reservation slots had been filled for those days plus Monday. The majority of the departure reservations — 107 to be exact — are scheduled for Monday. Another 33 are scheduled across Saturday and Sunday.
“What the NFL was saying, and it appears they were right, is that people trickle in over the week because they want to get here early and go to some of the concerts and some of the events and the venues,” Smith said. “But as soon as the game ends, everybody wants to go home.
“So Sunday night (and) Monday morning will be the mass exodus and the busy time for all of the airports.”
In many cases during the days leading up to the weekend, planes are flying in, dropping visitors off and then leaving to pick up other passengers. Smith said planes that fly in this weekend, particularly on Sunday before the game, will likely stay parked at the airport during the game though.
“We’re going to end up shutting down one of the less used taxiways to provide additional parking for the additional aircraft,” Smith said. “The other thing is a lot of my parking spaces are for the smaller, single engine aircraft and a jet will take four or five of those spaces up so there are not only more airplanes, but bigger airplanes.
“So we’ve tried to consolidate all of the airplanes that live here (in one area) so we’ve got more area to park the transient airplanes and then we’ll shut down the taxiway to have even more parking.”
And if something happens to a plane on the runway, Smith said airport crews will only have up to 10 minutes to clear it before the next plane is set to land under the FAA’s slot schedule.
Smith said fixed-based operators, also known as FBOs, that operate out of the airport, including Aircraft Specialists and Gwinnett Aero, deal more in the specifics of who are the people on the flights than the airport does. He did not rule out, however, the possibility that some high rollers could be on the flights.
“Some of the reservations are from fractional ownerships (groups of people who pooled money to buy a plane), such as charter-type companies,” Smith said. “Some of the reservations are from the casinos in Las Vegas. It just depends.”
Don’t expect flight tracking websites to advertise what airport celebrities will be flying into though.
“I’m sure there are (some celebrities), but I wouldn’t know for sure,” Smith said. “The FBOs would be the ones to talk about that because they see them when they walk off the planes. All I see is a tail number and 99 percent of these planes belong to a corporation.
“It’ll be like Cessna 1234 Corporation and they do that specifically because if it says (a celebrity’s name) then whenever (they) goes some where, everybody will want to go see (them).”