NEWARK, N.J. – While one burning question looms over the run-up to Super Bowl — Will it snow? — at least as much attention is being focused behind the scenes on how to safely and efficiently move tens of thousands of people in and around MetLife Stadium.
Over it, too.
MetLife Stadium sits within a few miles of Teterboro Airport to the north and several miles from Newark Liberty Airport to the south. Those are two of the four hubs that help make the New York-New Jersey metro area the most congested airspace in the country. Newark Liberty and New York's LaGuardia and JFK airports handled a combined 109 million passengers last year.
At certain times of the day, planes serving both Newark and Teterboro fly over the stadium complex every few minutes. Add hundreds more private jets that figure to arrive in the days leading up to the Super Bowl and the airspace could become even more crowded.
That won't be the case during the game, however, when the Federal Aviation Administration will create a temporary flight restriction over MetLife Stadium.
The FAA didn't offer details on that this week, but judging by previous Super Bowls, it figures to include a no-fly zone restricting all private, non-commercial aircraft from flying within several miles of the stadium beginning a few hours before the game and lasting for a few hours after. Scheduled commercial flights haven't been disrupted during previous Super Bowls and likely wouldn't be this time.
Unlike Newark, Teterboro handles mostly private jets and could be the most affected, both by the increased traffic leading up to the game and the restrictions after the game that could create a bottleneck of flights getting out of town.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates Teterboro and Newark Liberty, is consulting with airports in cities that have hosted previous Super Bowls and will require private aircraft to use a reservation system to land at Teterboro during Super Bowl week. The airport's voluntary ban on flights between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., instituted several years ago in response to residents' noise concerns, will remain in effect during that time, Port Authority spokesman Ron Marsico said.
Then there's the challenge of where to put all those planes once they are on the ground. Ray Adams, head of the air traffic controllers' union at Newark Liberty, said the airport could shut down some sections and use them to park aircraft. Adams said private aircraft departing after the game could have to reserve slots ahead of time.
No-fly zones over major sporting events have become commonplace since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., and they have been employed at all Super Bowls since 2002. They have encompassed airspace up to 18,000 feet and can extend from prohibiting all private aircraft from an area a few miles around a stadium to a 30-mile radius in which aircraft must keep in constant contact with controllers.
The airspace around Super Bowls has been patrolled by Air Force F-16 fighter jets and other aircraft operating under the auspices of Homeland Security. There have been isolated instances over the years in which private planes have violated restrictions inadvertently and were intercepted and landed without incident.