With regard to the airfield, the ex-military runway was sufficient for commercial aircraft operation (one of the longest runways in California at 11,300 feet); and the airport provides a CAT II ILS approach and an operating contract tower.
“Mather is not a Part 139-certified airport,” relates Benaman. “Carriers would have to get the FAA to sign off on that. An airport security program would also have to be written for Mather, and TSA would have to sign off on that. Neither will sign off until an airline signs a letter of intent to operate; it would be after a disaster before a letter of intent would come … so we figured it would be at least four to six weeks, administratively, before the Mather operation could begin.
“That then gives us four to six weeks to start setting up the temporary facilities that we have planned for Mather.”
Defining the goal
“When we said we can get an airport up and operating, what does operating really mean?” asks Varwig. “What capacity; how many flights a day should we be prepared to take? Part of that we came up with internally by looking at projections of flight schedules, but we also met with the airlines.
“The first goal is defining what the real concept of operations is going to be, and then from that you start building the infrastructure and facilities you need to support that level of operation.”
The most extreme situation planned for took into account the region’s meteorological trends. Comments Benaman, “The region gets the most rain during the months of November, December, and January … which could extend into April and May when the spring snowmelt occurs. If the area flooded during this time, the airport would probably be shut down for a long time due its elevation; in a worst case scenario, SMF could be out of service for as long as twelve months.
“We started planning for the operation of one carrier. In that case, we didn’t need to invest a couple million dollars in sprung structures; we decided to use a nearby Marriott Hotel to perform all of the passenger screening and ticketing. We would secure bags and secure people and transport them from the screening location to be directly loaded onto aircraft at the airport.
“If more carriers wanted to come in, based on the throughput of the security lanes at the hotel, the airport would almost run a slot-restricted operation. Throughput of operational security would dictate the number of flights that could operate.”
TSA has verbally approved the Marriott idea — securing people and baggage to and from the airport; the plan still has to be written up, says Benaman.
Adds Varwig, “In the event that it looked like SMF was going to be out of service for an extended period of time, then option two would be implemented, which would really be the construction of a mini-terminal complex with sprung structures and temporary equipment on some vacated tarmac area.
“Basically we put together what we call a ‘grab and go’ plan, which is a series of checklists for every department so that each department would know what they were supposed to be doing. We integrated that plan to parallel the city’s flood plan, so that if the city’s flood control plan or evacuation plan was at a level one, we would also be at level one.”
Importance of communication
Stakeholders were brought in from the ground up with a kickoff meeting to start the planning, says Benaman. “Involving the stakeholders early on is really important, especially the FAA and TSA.”
Explains Varwig, “The [COOP] for Sacramento included everybody on the airport, all the tenants, all the airlines, everything. AEP’s address what the airport staff needs to be doing, but doesn’t really take into consideration all of the other tenants at the airport, and how they’re going to be handled. There is kind of a void in what the FAA requires of an airport operator in its AEP development versus what really should be required.”
Communication with the city concerning its evacuation plans for surrounding communities is also critical, relates Varwig. “FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and other agencies have designated spots — sometimes using airports, reliever airports, and adjacent properties — where deliveries or evacuations are going to take place.”