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NATCA’S Minnesota Members Are Ready for the Super Bowl of Air Traffic Control

MINNEAPOLIS – National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) represented air traffic controllers, traffic management coordinators, and staff specialists in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region are ready for one of the biggest challenges of their careers – safely and efficiently handling the large amount of air traffic headed into and out of the area for Super Bowl LII weekend.

It’s the Super Bowl of ATC, and it has begun already at airports across the region. The heaviest amount of arriving traffic is expected today, with steady streams of aircraft to follow on Saturday and early on game day Sunday. Then, immediately after the game, controllers and the teams of aviation safety professionals at each facility will work to safely handle the flow of departing aircraft.

“On behalf of the NATCA members at Minneapolis Air Traffic Control Tower (MSP), we look forward to the challenge that the increased volume of traffic for the Super Bowl will bring,” MSP NATCA Facility Representative Thayer Davis said. “MSP NATCA members Pete Dwyer, Audrey Dorf, and Allison Palmer have worked tirelessly in collaboration with FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) leadership to plan for the increased volume and demand this event will bring while keeping safety as our number one priority.”

“Our facility never closes,” Davis added. During the Super Bowl traffic period, MSP will have increased controller staffing on all shifts including doubling the staffing of the overnight shift on the evening Feb. 4 after the game ends to ensure all aircraft safely travel to and from Minneapolis.

MSP will be using Runways 4/22 for parking aircraft coming in just for the game. Other airports around the region, including Flying Cloud, St. Paul Downtown, Mankato, Rochester, Anoka County-Blaine, and many more, will handle many dozens of aircraft and have plans in place for landing reservations and areas in which to park on the airport surface.

While air traffic controllers at many facilities across the country often work extra air traffic during big events, such as college football games, golf tournaments, motorsports races, general aviation fly-ins, and more, it is the Super Bowl that is annually one of the most high-profile demonstrations of air traffic control planning and skill. Preparations for this weekend began well over a year ago and the Minneapolis NATCA-FAA Super Bowl team learned key lessons from the experience of the Houston team a year ago which performed extraordinarily well to handle Super Bowl LI.

“We learned a lot from Houston about speed control, anticipated traffic counts, and staffing demands,” said Minneapolis TRACON (M98) member and facility Super Bowl committee lead Daniel Last, who added that preparations included testing the facility’s route structure and acceptance rates. “We are mitigating traffic off our outlining airports with independent routes to let MSP traffic run unabated. One year of planning now comes down to five days of implementation. Our controllers are ready to perform at our highest level. We are ready!”

Extra traffic above last year’s levels are expected in Minneapolis due to the presence of teams from New England and Philadelphia, two very busy markets for private and business aircraft. An extra 1,100 to 1,600 private aircraft are expected to transport Super Bowl fans to the Twin Cities region this week.

It will also be a busy weekend for Minneapolis Center (ZMP), the regional en route radar facility that is responsible for the airspace over much of the northwest Great Lakes and northern Great Plains region. All aircraft entering and departing the Minneapolis region will be handled by the ZMP team of safety professionals. ZMP will work closely with NATCA-represented traffic management coordinators at the FAA Command Center in Virginia, which is responsible for national air traffic flows and planning.

ZMP FacRep Tony Walsh credited the great work of ZMP member Jeff St. Germain, who with his FAA counterpart Sean Fortier facilitated much of the Super Bowl preparation at the facility.

“The aviation safety professionals at Minneapolis Center are well prepared for the additional traffic volume during the Super Bowl and surrounding events,” Walsh said. “In addition to the normal daily air traffic, ZMP is expecting to see an increase of over 2,500 flight operations with the arriving and departing Super Bowl air traffic.”

NATCA Air Traffic Controllers Prepare for Super Bowl Weekend Traffic Surge

As the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks prepare for the big game this Sunday, air traffic controllers in the New York / New Jersey metropolitan area are preparing as well.

 (image by NJ Star -Ledger)

(image by NJ Star -Ledger)

Air traffic controllers and other safety professionals represented by NATCA throughout the region are ready to continue a massive team effort this weekend that began earlier this week, ensuring a safe, efficient and seamless event in some of the nation’s tightest and most dense airspace.

“It’s already a very small and complex airspace, and now you have this added layer of volume,” says New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) NATCA Facility Representative Dean Iacopelli. “We’re trying to maximize the airspace and minimize the delays, and also have procedures in place to be as best prepared for this event as we can.”

NATCA LOGOThe FAA and NATCA have worked collaboratively to develop a plan for the increase of traffic, using the experiences and lessons learned from previous Super Bowl locations and factoring those in with the complexities of the New York metropolitan area airspace. They have also added extra staff to the schedules for today through Monday night (Feb. 3), however, Iacopelli explains that just because extra staff is on hand, that does not mean the number of planes handled can be increased exponentially.

“The bottom line is the [National Airspace] system can only handle so many more planes,” he says. “If we add 50 staff, we can’t add 10 times the amount of planes.”

Caldwell, Farmingdale, Islip, Morristown, Newark, Teterboro, and Westchester Towers as well as New York TRACON and New York Air Route Traffic Control Center are all expecting to be the most heavily impacted by the surge of traffic.

Controllers at New York TRACON, located in Westbury, N.Y., on Long Island, handle flights between a tower and New York Center; they facilitate departures transitioning from the airport to the Center environment and then take the aircraft from the Center environment and line them up in sequence to land at an airport. The TRACON controllers will not only be handling the air carrier flights for John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia and Newark Airports, but also flights heading to and from Philadelphia International Airport and the general aviation airports in the New York Metropolitan area, including Teterboro, Westchester County and Islip.

With MetLife Stadium only two miles south of Teterboro Airport, air traffic controllers have already started seeing an influx of traffic. The airport can accommodate up to 700 airplanes and most of the spots are already booked.

“We are staffing at full capacity; we have all controllers on duty and plan to have them work overtime. Our membership here at Teterboro Tower has been working tirelessly in preparation for the big game,” says Teterboro Tower NATCA Facility Representative Edmund Granton. “It truly has been a team effort, with a lot of collaboration among NATCA, FAA and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. We’re all working towards a common goal, and we want to make that happen as safely, as efficiently and as productively as possible.”

At Newark, controllers are expecting an increase in traffic although it will be limited due to an hourly cap. There is very limited general aviation parking and the tower expects possibly 30 to 40 extra overnight aircraft, according to Newark NATCA Facility Representative Ray Adams.

“The bigger impact on the airport will be airspace saturation,” Adams said. “Teterboro and Morristown are each located about 10 miles from Newark and share the same airspace and area of New York TRACON. Their traffic is predicted to skyrocket. The resulting saturation may cause delays at EWR.”

The FAA has increased staffing at Newark in the days leading up to the game and will do so after the game. “We are staffing our midnight shift on Sunday night with extra controllers, a traffic management coordinator and a supervisor.”

Farmingdale Tower NATCA Facility Representative Mark Abbey says the tower is normally staffed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., but for the Super Bowl there will be staff working a midnight shift Sunday into Monday morning.

“We also worked out some new procedures with New York TRACON to expedite handling of instrument flight rules (IFR) traffic,” he says. “It is being handled as professionally as it could be, and it’s quite the collaborative effort.”

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