Super Bowl aviation plans are up in the air

Aug. 27--ARLINGTON -- Michael Morris hopes to wow some of the brightest minds in corporate America when they show up in North Texas for the world's hottest schmoozing event -- the Super Bowl.

As the transportation czar at the North Central Texas Council of Governments, Morris is well-known for his highly orchestrated road plans. But until recently, little has been said about the highways in the sky he hopes to use to fly people to Texas and whisk them around the Metroplex during Super Bowl week.

His secret weapon: roughly 20 public airports and helipads scattered across North Texas.

For the first time since May, when the big game in 2011 was officially awarded to Arlington, Morris offered new details for how North Texas could run an aerial game plan unlike anything the National Football League has seen.

"I know the NFL will know how to do bus operations and a whole bunch of other things," Morris said at a recent aviation summit at the Arlington Convention Center. "But they haven't been to too many places that have this redundant capacity of aviation."

'Hidden jewel'

Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL, said every Super Bowl is different, "defined by numerous factors including geography and accessibility."

For example, he said, the Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. -- with its lack of hotel rooms and its location next to the Atlantic Ocean -- was uniquely set up to host many docked cruise ships as makeshift hotel rooms for the week.

He said the league is aware of the availability and access of North Texas airports. In addition to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and Dallas Love Field, the 16-county region is home to 53 other public airports available to general-aviation fliers.

Morris hopes to use almost half of those to capture the attention of visitors, especially the affluent ones.

"The Super Bowl is going to attract a certain income level, a certain ownership of aircraft that we can now exploit and explore this hidden jewel of our aviation system in North Texas," Morris said. He added that he wants people to leave thinking, "Hey, Dallas-Fort Worth's cool because I was able to do -- whatever."

If Morris has his way, that "whatever" could include the liberal use of helicopters to get VIPs around the Metroplex. He's talking with Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter about using the civilian version of the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft to move people around, if it's on the market by then. The aircraft, which Morris has been told will be available by 2010, lifts straight off the ground like a helicopter, then tilts its rotors about 90 degrees to fly like an airplane.

A couple of times during the aviation summit, Morris and other airport officials mentioned the possibility of using the helipad atop the W Dallas Victory Hotel.

They are also particularly interested in the way that Alliance Airport flies in high-income guests on corporate jets for NASCAR races and then takes them by helicopter to Texas Motor Speedway, which has six helipads. Mike Nicely, manager of the FAA's development office, said temporary helipads and control towers could also be set up.

A temporary helipad could be as simple as clearing out a parking lot downtown, Morris said, or as unusual as landing on the baseball field at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

At this point, Morris said, he's just trying to get the thoughts percolating in the aviation community. "I think this is the beginning of the conversation."

Corporate jets

With all the airports and Fortune 500 executives already in North Texas, it may not be too surprising that the region is one of the country's busiest for general-aviation fliers.

The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area averages almost 35 takeoffs and landings for every 100 people living in the area, according to the council of governments. That ranks this area third among the country's 10 largest metropolitan areas for general-aviation operations.

The region also has the largest number of general-aviation jets based here. About 15 jets for every 100,000 people are in North Texas hangars.

The general-aviation industry is strong because of the growing popularity of corporate jets, industry officials say.

Couple that with the surging corporate presence at the Super Bowl, and Morris realizes that he's going to need general-aviation airports to play an active role during Super Bowl week.

"This corporate market has changed," said Morris, who attended the Super Bowl in Miami at the start of the year. "Fifteen years ago at the Super Bowl, you wouldn't have had all this corporate jet aircraft you have today."

Technology is also making it easier for more people to skip the long lines at commercial airports. At the recent aviation summit, which was sponsored by the council of governments, one industry expert talked about the growing presence of DayJet.

DayJet is launching what it calls "per-seat, on-demand" service in Florida and hopes to expand to Texas in the next 18 to 24 months, said Chris Basham, with the aviation-advisory firm Clough Harbour and Associates. The service works like fractional-jet ownership, but without the equity stake. A customer calls up and gives a range for when he needs to leave and when he's returning. The more specific the range, the more expensive the ticket is, Basham said.

The convenience and growing affordability of these so-called air taxis will enable many Super Bowl visitors to bypass the busy runways at D/FW Airport and Love Field.

Flying into Arlington

Arlington Municipal Airport, only eight miles from the new stadium, could be sitting right in the heart of the corporate-jet world when the Super Bowl comes to town.

But with tickets going for $1,000 and up, Morris realizes that most fans will want to arrive well before Super Bowl Sunday. Because they're spending that kind of money on just a ticket, they'll want to get the most out of their experience, he said.

When he was in Miami, Morris said he noticed people flying in as early as the Sunday before the game. But private jet traffic steadily built as the week progressed. Thursday and Friday were two of the biggest days.

Morris and others are also thinking about temporary flight restrictions the day of the big game. The restrictions shouldn't affect commercial flights at D/FW or Love, Morris said, but probably will cut down on general-aviation flights. He said he hopes to be able to land helicopters near the stadium on game day.

Nathan Mikula doesn't think that the flight restrictions will hurt his business at Arlington Airport, which would essentially be shut down during the game because it's inside the 10-mile restricted area.

As the general manager of the airport's only fixed-base operator, Harrison Aviation, Mikula thinks that plenty of planes will be coming in and parking throughout the week.

He only needs to look back at some of the more popular Texas Rangers games to know how much affluent fans will travel. When the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees come to town, so too do their private-plane-flying fans.

For the Rangers' home opener against the Boston Red Sox this year, every parking spot on the ramp was filled with small jets, he said. "It was unbelievable."

Even typical Rangers games draw about 10 to 15 private jets from small towns throughout Texas, he said.

So, he can't even imagine how big Super Bowl Sunday could be.

"I think we'll be real busy," he said. "You're going to see a lot of planes parked outside -- I mean a lot. ... This will be really crazy."

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David Wethe, 817-685-3803

dwethe@star-telegram.com

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