Salem airport gearing up for extra air traffic for solar eclipse - KPTV - FOX 12

Total Solar Eclipse

Salem airport gearing up for extra air traffic for solar eclipse

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The air traffic control tower at McNary Field. The air traffic control tower at McNary Field.
The main entrance at the Salem Airport. The main entrance at the Salem Airport.
SALEM, OR (KPTV) -

With the highly-anticipated solar eclipse four weeks away, people are gearing up for the huge crowds that are expected on the road – but that isn’t the only place traffic will be coming from.

At the Salem Municipal Airport, or McNary Field, staff are also gearing up for what may be the busiest day of air traffic in its history.

“We’re planning for hundreds of aircraft and hundreds of people,” airport manager John Paskell told FOX 12.

The airport is not open to commercial traffic, but for business jets and chartered flights, being able to land at McNary Field is essentially a ticket to the biggest show in the sky of our lifetimes – the total solar eclipse on August 21.

Salem will be right along the “path of totality,” among the best viewing of the eclipse in the country.

The problem is, an eclipse like this happens so rarely there’s no other airport manager Paskell can call for advice on what to expect and how to plan.

To help organize ahead of the big day, airport leaders are working with a consultant who has experience on large-scale events like the Super Bowl.

“We’ve got a reservation system that we’ve put together,” Paskell added. “So essentially you’re not going to be able to come to the Salem airport on eclipse day unless you have a reservation.”

There are some 120 aircraft on that reservation list and another 50 on the waiting list. Paskell said the airport has never reached maximum capacity before, but he imagines it would be somewhere around 150-200 aircraft.

“In terms of number of people, it depends on how many people show up on any given aircraft,” he said. “If it’s two, then we’re looking at 300-400 people, but if it’s 4-6 or business jets with 50 people on board, we could have hundreds of people visiting the airport on a given day and that never happens.”

While they do want to accommodate as many people as possible, they’re also facing limited resources for such a large-scale event.

“We’ve essentially canceled all vacations and things like that, and I know Salem Air Center, Salem Aviation Fueling, they’re actually calling in volunteers," said Paskell.

With traffic jams expected everywhere on the day of the eclipse, airport staff will be coming in the night before to make sure they don’t run into any problems.

It will be all hands on deck in the control tower and everywhere else, ahead of what may be the busiest day on record at McNary Field.

“We potentially have a 737 coming in, could be an Embraer 145, we know we have several large business size jets coming in,” Paskell said. “We have to make sure we can fit everyone in here and then logistically get them all out when they want to leave.”

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