Bloomberg News

Super Bowl Air Boss Wrangles Swarms of High-Dollar Fliers

January 23, 2014

Aircraft Wrangler Wayne Boggs

Wayne Boggs, 2008 Arctic Thunder air boss, keeps a keen eye skyward during an air show performance. Photographer: Tech. Sgt. Alan Port/U.S Air Force photo via Bloomberg

Shortly after the last confetti rains down at the National Football League’s championship game, Wayne Boggs and his team will take the field in the annual Super Bowl of luxury private aviation.

New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport, one of the nation’s busiest for business aviation, will be jammed with about half the 1,200 private and charter planes coming in for the Feb. 2 game. Almost all will be looking to enter the world’s most-delayed airspace that night and the next day.

Boggs’s job at Teterboro will be to prevent the postgame gridlock that’s sometimes ensnared corporate chiefs and celebrities used to being whisked around on a whim. In his third Super Bowl as the so-called air boss, Boggs has the last word on who gets out and when.

“It’s air-traffic control on steroids,” said Boggs, 67, of Tampa, Florida, who specializes in choreographing air shows.

There won’t be as many flight operations around the big game as the New York area has during normal summer periods, even with the influx of private planes, according to a Federal Aviation Administration analysis obtained by Bloomberg News.

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That makes Boggs’s task about logistics on the ground. One stalled plane can block dozens of others from reaching the runways, slowing departures to a crawl.

Then there’s this year’s wild card for aircraft operators as well as for the two teams in the first Super Bowl played outdoors in northern climes -- the weather.

Ground Control

Boggs won’t replace the FAA employees at Teterboro’s tower, who will be working at full capacity. His team of 11 will be responsible for wrangling aircraft on the tarmac and some taxiways, which during the game will resemble the MetLife Stadium parking lot less than 2 miles (3 kilometers) away, he said in an interview.

He’ll set up a shadow control facility from an unused tower at the airport. Team members, most of them former air-traffic controllers like Boggs, will be stationed at each of the five airport locations that service the planes. Another will be roving in an airport vehicle. Those in the tower will keep tabs on which planes can depart first, radioing taxi instructions on a frequency temporarily assigned to them.

Boggs said he won’t allow a plane to move at Teterboro until all passengers are aboard and it’s been fueled. Clearance to taxi will be first-come, first-served. That prevents pilots from trying to outrun others to the runways and gives the tower’s controllers an orderly flow, he said.

Teterboro’s airport is taking reservations for as many as 600 aircraft to park there. They will include models built by General Dynamics Corp. (GD:US)’s Gulfstream, Bombardier Inc. (BDRBF:US) and Dassault Aviation SA (AM)’s Falcon.

“You have a tremendous amount of heavy iron attending,” Boggs said, using industry jargon for the largest business jets.

Airplane Choreographer

Just as his lookalike younger brother, Wade Boggs, hit the toughest pitchers during his Hall of Fame baseball career with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, Wayne Boggs’s skills are distinctive enough to have inspired a reality-TV miniseries called “Air Boss.” It’s scheduled to debut in June on affiliates of Discovery International, according to the show’s website.

One occupational hazard is that “high-dollar people,” as the air boss calls them, can get impatient if they have to wait.

After the 2008 Super Bowl, held at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, private and charter planes trying to leave the following day were delayed at least six hours.

A storm blew across the Phoenix region on the Monday after the game and limited departures, Arthur Rosen, who was chairman of the Scottsdale Airport’s advisory commission, said in an interview.

2008 Meltdown

Compounding the delays were that some plane owners and operators reserved departure slots and then failed to leave on time, Rosen said.

Robert Kraft, owner of the losing New England Patriots, was stuck in the backup and called officials in an attempt to reach the airport manager, according to Rosen.

The gridlock didn’t just ensnare the losing team. A plane carrying quarterback Eli Manning of the victorious New York Giants and his older brother, Peyton Manning, who will lead the Denver Broncos against the Seattle Seahawks in this year’s game, also was stuck, Rosen said.

“That can be a challenge,” Boggs said, “keeping them as happy as we can until they are able to get out.”

After last year’s Super Bowl, a former football player Boggs declined to identify became irate after the air boss made him wait in a departure queue at New Orleans’s Lakefront Airport.

“The reason he couldn’t go was all his people weren’t there,” he said.

Keeping Happy

Such confrontations have been rare, Boggs said. Most often he eases anger by acting as a referee and providing information if delays occur, he said. When tensions persist, he dispatches a member of his staff to mollify passengers.

Boggs’s work after last year’s Super Bowl prevented a recurrence of the much-worse delays seen in New Orleans after the men’s college basketball championship game in 2012, when Boggs wasn’t on duty, Louis Capo, executive director of the Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority, which manages Lakefront Airport, said in an interview.

The FAA, local airport authorities in New York and New Jersey, and aviation businesses have spent months preparing for what’s the biggest annual event for business-jet travelers, according to Argus International Inc., a Cincinnati-based aviation research firm.

Reservations Required

Mindful of previous traffic jams, the FAA has required private and charter planes flying to airports near MetLife Stadium to obtain a reservation and a parking space.

The cost of chartering a plane to the Super Bowl varies by distance traveled, aircraft size and other factors. Hiring a plane capable of flying non-stop from Los Angeles to Teterboro, and staying four days, would cost $65,000, said Andrew Ladouceur, vice president of charter sales and client services at Meridian Teterboro, one of the five bases for private aircraft at the airport.

Airports are laying in extra fuel and deicing fluid, making special parking arrangements for vans and limousines and calling on hundreds of volunteers to assist visitors.

At Meridian, reservations for plane parking during the Super Bowl filled up before Christmas, Betsy Wines, the company’s vice president of customer service and human resources, said in an interview.

‘More Planes’

Carlyle Group LP (CG:US)’s Landmark Aviation is bringing in more than 20 employees from bases around the U.S. to supplement its staff of 120 at Teterboro, Mario Diaz, the facility’s manager, said in an interview. It expects to handle at least 150 planes, Diaz said.

Both facilities are hosting a viewing party for the pilots and crew who must tend to aircraft during the game.

Interest is also brisk for private flights at Newark Liberty International Airport, which can handle the private planes too big for Teterboro, such as Boeing Co.’s BBJ line including 737s and the double-decker 747-8 modified for private use.

The concrete tarmac at the northern tip of Newark will hold planes worth more than $1 billion on game day.

“We’re going to have more planes during the Super Bowl than we’ve ever had before,” said Eric Richardson, general manager at BBA Aviation Plc (BBA)’s Signature Flight Support at Newark.

‘Dead Crawl’

Super Bowl attendees more into making appearances than staying until the game’s end must use Newark as well. While FAA security rules ban flights at Teterboro from 4 p.m. the day of the game until an hour after the contest ends, Newark is just outside the FAA’s no-flight ring around the stadium and has no restrictions.

The crush at Teterboro won’t begin until the FAA lifts its flight restrictions at about midnight after the game, Boggs said.

He expects a rush from midnight until about 5 a.m. on Feb. 3, with traffic picking up again around 7 a.m. “We don’t quit or take a break until we end around 3 p.m. Monday,” he said.

There’s only one thing Boggs is dreading: the weather. There may be little he can do if freezing rain, snow or high winds reduce flight capacity or temporarily shut an airport.

A winter storm like the one that hit New York and New Jersey Jan. 21 “will throw everything into a dead crawl,” he said.

“In that case, you’d want everyone to take a vacation and go into Manhattan to see a show,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Levin in Washington at alevin24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net


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