Only 35 slots remained Thursday out of 400 available to pilots expecting to arrive at the Madras Airport for the total solar eclipse Aug. 21 — and they were going fast, said Airport Manager Rob Berg.
The airport’s fixed-base operator, Berg Air, also operated by Berg and his wife, Tracy Berg, sold out reservations for aircraft to park the day of and the day before the eclipse. Spots went for between $800 for a Global Express, a twin-engine business jet, to $200 for a small plane. Rob Berg said an array of aircraft types — including Bombardiers and Gulfstreams, Citations, Learjets and King Airs — bringing visitors from around the globe, is scheduled the day of and the weekend before the eclipse.
Aircraft are scheduled to arrive at the rate of about one every three minutes in the days preceding the eclipse.
“If you’re an aircraft junkie, it’s a great place to be,” he said.
To handle the surge in traffic, the airport hired a temporary air traffic control service from Klamath Falls, Aegis ATC. Company CEO Daniel Dierickx said he and his business partner will have at least a four-person crew working the event from Aug. 18, a Friday, through Aug. 21. The city of Madras approved spending $10,000 for the contract, wrote City Manager Gus Burril in an email Thursday.
Aegis is providing the service at cost, Dierickx said. The controllers are all experienced, FAA-certified controllers who’ve taken leave to work the event.
“Everyone is super stoked to see the eclipse,” he said. “This is basically a paid vacation.”
Dierickx said he and Alex Fugate combined their experience as controllers with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Air National Guard to create their own company that provides temporary towers for events like air shows. Dierickx, who works as a manager in the Bay Area, also deployed to Iraq with the guard, he said.
“We’ve both been in the Air National Guard doing air traffic control for 15 years, doing mobile towers that length of time,” Dierickx said. “That’s where I got the experience to pull this off.”
The Bend Airport also hired a temporary air traffic control service, Tower Tech Inc., for the same period, although it will also be in service Aug. 22, and cost the city about $15,000, said Airport Manager Gary Judd.
Professional Air and Leading Edge Aviation, the two fixed-base operators that provide fuel, maintenance and other services to aviators at the Bend Airport, have so far taken nearly 100 reservations for overnight aircraft parking there.
Leading Edge made 21 reservations and has no space left, a representative there said Friday. Professional Air customer service representative Jocelyn Hoen said it made about 65 reservations but may have some few spaces left. “The city keeps finding more space on the apron and off to the side,” she said Friday.
At Madras, the airport provided a job site office trailer from Kirby Nagelhout Construction Co. to serve as a “tower,” along with radios. The relatively flat expanse surrounding the airport means the controllers work without radar, relying on line-of-sight and radio communications to manage arrivals and departures. Normally the airspace around the airport is uncontrolled, meaning pilots use a common traffic frequency to broadcast their locations to other pilots. While the temporary tower is in place, pilots must establish radio contact with air traffic control “prior to four miles from the airport and up to 2,500 feet above ground level,” according to the FAA Northwest Mountain & Alaska Region. Only aircraft with reservation numbers and an assigned time will be allowed to land at or depart from the airport, Berg said.
“Unless it’s an emergency, which is a top priority, always,” he said. “But whoever declares an emergency has to answer for that.”
Information on approach and departure procedures is available in a Notice to Airmen, or NOTAM, on the Berg Air website. Dierickx said he used a system similar to metering at large airports to put space and time between individual aircraft as they arrive and depart. Unlike a commercial airport, where the majority of aircraft — commercial airliners, for example — have the same characteristics such as approach speed, the wide variety of aircraft scheduled to arrive at Madras presents a challenge for controllers, he said.
“Anything from a Learjet down to a small biplane,” Dierickx said. “We’ve built in a little bit of extra time so we don’t bunch up a whole lot of fast movers all at once.”
Berg said the airport is asking pilots to refrain from flying around the Madras area during the eclipse, which achieves totality for a little more than two minutes starting at 10:19 a.m., for safety’s sake. Dierickx said the airport will be closed for about an hour around that time, except for a skydiving exercise nearby.
After the eclipse, the airport will be limited to departures only at a rate slightly faster than they arrived, Dierickx said.
“It’s going to be quite a time,” he said, “for a short period of time.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7815, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: This story has been changed from the original version to reflect the proper pilot’s procedure for entering the airspace around Madras Airport.