Corporate jets blitz bay area for Super Bowl
By JEAN HELLER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 22, 2001
TAMPA -- Sleek and pricey private jets will be lined up to land this week at Tampa and St. Petersburg-Clearwater international airports.
Hundreds of them. More, officials say, than the two airports will be able to handle. The overflow will go to Sarasota or Lakeland, or as far away as Orlando, where helicopters will shuttle passengers to the big game.
Far more than the NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament in 1999, the Super Bowl is a corporate event. It's a lavish way for businesses to entertain their best customers, and it has a high celebrity quotient.
About 400 private jets were in the region for the Final Four: 300 at St. Petersburg-Clearwater, 100 at TIA. The National Football League predicts the total will approach 1,000 for Super Bowl XXXV.
Because of anticipated heavy traffic, the FAA will place the two major airports, plus Vandenberg and Peter O. Knight in Hillsborough County and Albert Whitted and Clearwater Executive in Pinellas, under tight operating conditions from Thursday through Jan. 29.
Aircraft that don't have a prior reservation, or "slot," and arrive between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., will have to take their chances on finding a place to land.
The restrictions do not include regularly scheduled commercial flights. They will operate normally.
As of Friday, TIA had reservations for 296 private jets, and the number was growing fast. St. Petersburg-Clearwater had reservations for 50 more. And officials were growing concerned that they wouldn't be able to handle as many planes as they once thought.
"What's amazed me is the size of the aircraft coming in this time," says Ed Cooley, senior director of operations and maintenance at TIA. "Initially, we thought we could handle up to 450 planes, but the reservations we're getting lean to larger aircraft, like the Gulfstream G-5 series that's got a wing span of 100 feet. They take a lot of room."
Officials at St. Petersburg-Clearwater are seeing the same thing.
"Our records show we had some of the larger corporate jets here for the Final Four, but the percentages are shifting a lot more toward them this time," operations director Tom Jewsbury says.
The private jets at TIA will be parked and serviced by Raytheon in the southeast corner of the airport property. Officials anticipate having to close the airport's only east-west landing strip so it can be used as a parking lot.
Raytheon will tow most jets to their parking spots and leave them spaced in positions to power their way out so they don't have to be towed twice, Cooley says. The exception are jets scheduled to leave next Monday. They will be packed at the west end of the runway as densely as possible, then towed into "power out" positions as the Raytheon ramp clears out after the game and early Monday.
At St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Jewsbury says preparations have been made to close two runways to park 200 to 400 private jets. Only the main north-south runway will remain open.
"We think we're going to those closures as early as Thursday or Friday," Jewsbury says.
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