Austin's Perfect Formula
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Airplanes from all over the world jam-packed in Austin.
Formula 1 is known as one of the world's most popular and prestigious car racing circuits and its first race in the United States since 2007 -- the U.S. Grand Prix -- was recently held in Austin, Texas. Air traffic controllers in the area were hit with massive amounts of air traffic, especially Austin Tower/TRACON (AUS) located just three miles from the racetrack.
AUS Facility Representative Matt Sheffield said he and his facility spent six months preparing for the weekend Formula 1 would be in town. The facility's usual staffing for a shift is comprised of nine air traffic controllers, but Formula 1 required five additional per shift.
Since the majority of Formula 1's audience is of elite status, many attendees traveled to the track each day by helicopter, requiring AUS to create specific helicopter routes. Sheffield said they even created a new position named "Race Operations" that would only handle this helicopter traffic.
"I didn't know anything about Formula 1 until it came to Austin," said Sheffield. "The amount of helicopter traffic was ridiculous. Every helicopter that flew in and out had to go through us. There were approximately 500 helicopter operations on Friday [Nov. 16] 700 on Saturday and over 1,000 on Sunday."
Sheffield said the President of Mexico Felipe Calderon, Texas Governor Rick Perry and "the richest man in the world," Mexican magnate Carlos Slim Helu, were among some of the known names that attended the event.
The biggest challenge they faced was the congestion on the radar. But Sheffield said that, in the end, everything worked out perfectly.
"It was a lot of work, but I'm very pleased with the outcome," said Sheffield. "We were told that we were the 11th-busiest TRACON in the country that weekend, which is saying something as we've never seen this much traffic at AUS."
Formula 1 race day.
View of planes parked at AUS.