Flying to the Big Game – or Any Big Event

February 1, 2017 | Author: Brian Bleier

The Big Game that’s being held in Houston this year is one of the busiest events for general aviation every year.

Corporate, fractional and general aviation pilots who have flown to the host city know all too well that even with sound planning, the unexpected can still happen. I remember two years ago when Phoenix hosted The Game, the Phoenix area experienced something that rarely happens: fog. It was so bad, flights arriving the day of the game had to divert to other local airports, mainly Scottsdale, which was already overloaded with traffic for a PGA golf tournament!

If your passengers have their plans hammered out early, it makes arranging the trip that much easier. It can be quite a challenge if the people you are flying decide to go at the last minute. Along with hotel rooms and other accommodations, where and how to park the airplane is another issue altogether. So, for those of you out there planning a trip to Houston this week, here are a few things to keep in mind:

The FAA has set up Special Air Traffic Procedures, which create preferred routes into and out of the Houston area. These are found here and will be in effect from 6 a.m. Feb. 2 to 8 p.m. Feb. 6. Now, if you do not file one of these predefined routes, air traffic control could place you in a holding pattern, issue you a different clearance than the one you filed, or outright reject your flight plan.

Once your passengers know when and where they want to go, the next step is contacting a fixed base operator (FBO) at any of the airports in the Houston area. The FBOs at each primary and satellite airport are allocated arrival and departure slots from the FAA, which are based on capacity for each hour.

The closest airport to the stadium (Houston Hobby - KHOU) expects the bulk of the traffic, so getting a desirable slot time may be impossible at this late date. There are other airports in the area that may have more slots, but they are much further from the stadium and downtown event areas.

I spoke with Melissa Bonner, manager at Swift Aviation in Phoenix, about Swift’s experiences with the Big Game week two years ago. She said it went well for the most part, but found that some aircraft “double-dipped” with slot times to hedge their bets.

The FBOs have the ability to see and reserve slots in real-time with the FAA, so they could see if an aircraft booked a slot time at another satellite airport. While they might have frowned on this practice, each FBO charges a “Special Event” fee, which ranges from $1,000-$1,500 on top of any other handling fees and fuel. Therefore, multiple slot times mean multiple event fees!

Melissa also wanted me to advise operators of one important thing: don’t try and pull rank on slot times because of who your passengers may be. She told me a story of an NFL owner (of one of the participating teams, no less!) who tried to move his slot time and how she had to say “No!” to him.

As for the 2017 game, I spoke with Brandy Ellison, manager at Atlantic Aviation at George Bush Intercontinental, about her experiences with Big Game bookings. She said there are still plenty of slot times, but they go fast! Carmen Martinez at Atlantic, Houston Hobby, says most of their prime time slots are already booked, but they still have varied slot times available.

For those that decide to stay a few days, there will be plenty of auxiliary parking, usually on adjacent taxiways. However, if you plan on dropping your passengers, most FBOs will allow you to drop near or at the normal staging area. In some cases, FBOs may set up separate drop and go locations for fractionals like NetJets and XoJet. In these situations, the FBO will typically handle the aircraft, as well as shuttle the passengers back and forth to the lobby.

When going to the big game, or any other high profile event, the key is planning. First, check with the FBOs at the airport closest to your event, and work your way outward if need be. Check NOTAMs and TFR times to avoid any undue delays. Finally, make sure you file your flight plan with a route that ATC wants you to file.

Better yet, give Honeywell a call at GoDirect Flight Services, and let us build the flight plan for you!

For more information from the FAA on this year’s big game, visit www.fly2sb51.org, or SB51 host committee: www.housuperbowl.com

Brian Bleier

Brian Bleier

Brian has been a Flight Data Specialist for GoDirect Flight Services since May 2016, and has over 6 years of dispatch experience. He currently contributes regular twitter posts (@GoDirectFlight), occasional blog posts, and lately enjoys being his puppy Bandit's favorite chew toy.

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