The Masters Means Big Changes At A Small Airport
The first week of April is Masters week in Augusta, bringing a steady stream of corporate jets and private planes to ferry golfers and guests in and out of Daniel Field.
Becky Shealy, the airport’s vice-president of business development, helps manage the private terminal.
“In a normal week we’ll have anywhere from 12 to 15 flights a day, and this time of year we’ll have anywhere from 50 to 100,” she said.
Most days nobody sits in the tower, but the 2018 Masters Golf Tournament brought many of the 250,000 attendees to Augusta by jet or private plane. That meant big changes at Daniel Field, a normally sleepy airport.
Those changes included David Short’s work with the tower. He works with AirBoss, a company that comes to small airports hosting major events such as air shows or the Masters. Short’s job is to run tower operations and supervise a team of retired air traffic controllers.
Short pointed to the men in that tower recently.
“He’s out of Palm Beach, Florida,” he said. “I come out of Greensboro, North Carolina. Bobby’s out of Wilmington, North Carolina, and Jim is from Charlotte, North Carolina.”
AirBoss supplies equipment like radios and a portable control tower pulled by a pick-up truck. They brought that last year after Daniel Field was damaged by a storm right before the Masters. The computers supplied by the Federal Aviation Administration were the only piece of equipment not supplied by the company.
Short said they don’t use radar. They use binoculars and their own eyes.
“Alright Bobby get some good eyes,” Short said. “Most of the planes have been coming in the gap right over Bi-Lo.”
The airport itself uses off-road vehicles called “Gators” with signs that say “follow me” to guide incoming planes to parking spaces around the airport. Short said as the week began that those spaces were filling up quickly.
“This will all be full,” Short said. “You see those blue tail airplanes? That’s Wheel’s Up, a big company that flies stuff all over the place. Their whole ramp will fill up later, and once that fills up and this fills up we will end up closing this runway and park airplanes here.”
The air traffic controllers on the radio warned of even the smallest obstacles with a sense of humor.
“There is a golf ball at the threshold at the end of the runway on 2-3 …. We’ll pass that along to the airport…a power drive from somebody.”
The AirBoss crew has been coming to Daniel Field so long they even recognize some of the big name golfers’ planes, such as Jack Nicklaus, Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson.
The air traffic controllers are quick to point out that they have the best of both worlds. They get to travel the country, work just a few weeks a year doing what they love and then return to a comfortable retirement at a beach, with a beer, watching birds and planes fly overhead.
The Masters concludes Sunday, when one of the players will be awarded the green jacket.