With Super Bowl LVIII right around the corner with the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, all fans are on deck and already paying thousands of dollars for commercial flights to the big game. Another mostly unknown traveler to the Super Bowl will be private pilots, with the outrageous ticket prices about to descend down on us it can be cheaper just to rent your own plane for the weekend and fly into a surrounding Las Vegas airport.
Except, with as many private pilots in the United States this could actually become a problem. In recent years air traffic controllers have been overwhelmed by the amount of traffic coming into the airports and the airspace around large events. It has become such a problem now that the FAA has to create safety plans for every large event to meter traffic and ensure everyone remains safe. They work closely with airports to ensure that they do not become grid locked with commercial and private aircraft.
Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR)
The first thing that the FAA will implement is a temporary flight restriction. This is like putting up safety cones in the sky and telling anyone who wants to enter they must play by a specific set of rules or else they can't enter. This could include have prior permission or a slot time to enter the airspace. This also could prohibit certain flight activities during the duration, for example pilots won't be able to fly VFR into the Las Vegas area and not talk to air traffic controllers or flight training is prohibited during the heavy times of arrival and departures.
Special Air Traffic Procedures
With the potential of five airports (minus Nellis Air Force Base) in the Las Vegas area that flights can fly into. Each airport has to come up with a parking plan and slot controls to not grid lock the airport. We've seen in recent years, more-so with last year's Super Bowl in Los Angeles, the small airports around the event will become so packed with private aircraft that the local airports can't park all those aircraft and they must resort to extreme measures to ensure everyone's private airplanes can fit.
Ground Delay Programs (GDP)
The best tool that air traffic controllers have to not overwhelm airports in the Las Vegas area is to issue what's called a Ground Delay Program (GDP). When issued it means you need a specific release slot from your departure airport with an Expect Departure Clearance Time (EDCT). This will apply for both commercial flights and private flights flying in. With the popularity of the event it will not be unheard of for flights to be issued over 3 hours of delays during peak times. So if you're planning to go to Las Vegas, pack some patience.
Airport Parking Reservations
Every airport has what's called a Fixed Based Operator (FBO), it could be one or multiple on the airport. These FBOs are like the commercial terminal for private pilots. They provide fuel and local facilities for smaller aircraft flying into airports. These FOBs are sometimes quite small and you need to pay a fee to use them. Because they are unregulated the fees to use their facilities can be quite high, I remember Henderson Executive Airport on the outskirts of Las Vegas was advertising $3000 fees during Formula 1 a few months ago. Due to the popularity of Super Bowl we could see even higher fees!
VFR/Air Files/IFR Pick-Ups
A trick in the past the pilots would use to try to skip the line into a busy airport would be to pickup or file a flight plan while in the air thinking there's no way they would be forced to land if they're already in the air. The FAA has gotten wise to this and will now actively deny your IFR clearance and according to a controller friend of mine they are also reporting those pilots to their local safety office. Likewise VFR flights into the super busy Las Vegas airspace will be denied if the airspace is too busy and pilots will be forced to hold or divert.
Busy Busy Busy
Make no mistake, if you're flying commercial or private the Las Vegas area will be incredibly busy for the Super Bowl week. Commercial flights are already sky rocketing in price, seats are becoming hard to come by, and hotel rooms are going through the roof for the anticipated game and I hope you enjoy people because there's going to be a lot of them. Overall I would highly recommend to stay humble and flexible with your travel plans, events like these push and test the limits of the air traffic control system along with all the above wing and below wing workers.