By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s game on for air traffic controllers at MSP International Airport. Super Bowl fever is about to make the air traffic control tower and terminal radar approach control (TRACON) extremely busy.

The Federal Aviation Administration expects the rush of arrivals will begin on Wednesday, adding anywhere from 1,100 to 1,600 private aircraft and corporate jets to the normal routine.

“We’re excited for it as well and it’s unique for us that we get challenged but we’re going to handle it in a safe and orderly manner and that means going later into the night,” the FAA’s Kurt Mara said.

To help handle the added workload, staffing’s been increased 50 percent. More eyes and ears working the MSP tower, TRACON and at the Minneapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center in Farmington.

“There will be extra traffic up flying around, VFR helicopters flying around, law enforcement helicopters up flying around, all kinds of activity associated with this event,” Mara explained.

So to keep the skies safe and orderly on game day, all UAVs or drones are being grounded within a 30 mile radius of U.S. Bank Stadium. Under temporary flight restrictions, all general aviation aircraft will need a reservation in order to take off or land anywhere within the TFR zone.

“You have a time when you can arrive and a time when you can depart and that’s your reservation slot,” Mara said.

Another challenge for planners is where to store the estimated 1,600 private aircraft.

So at MSP and three reliever airports at St. Paul, Anoka and Eden Prairie, six runways will be closed and turned into parking lots.

Planes that can’t be stored inside the limited supply of heated hangars will have to sit outside in the bitter cold. Because of that, a number of aircraft owners will do a “drop and go” and return on Monday to retrieve their passengers.

“If we can’t absorb all those aircraft at those four main airports then they’re going to be looking at airports further out, such as the St. Cloud’s and the Mankato’s, and Rochester’s and Duluth,” Mara said.

Most challenging will be the departures on Sunday evening and all day on Monday. Private planes and jets will begin leaving shortly after the game is over and continue throughout the night and next day.

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