Originally created 04/10/00

Golfers, fans flood airports



As Vijay Singh clinched his first green jacket and the 2000 Masters Tournament became a memory, the frenzy at Augusta's airports began.

Golfers and fans rushed to the airports to catch flights bound for hundreds of destinations.

"It has been extremely busy today," said Aaron Blakeney, manager for Delta Air Lines at Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field.

The Delta and US Airways Express ticket counters were flooded with passengers checking in. Jerry Stein and his friends watched the final moments of the tournament while waiting to catch a flight home to Texas.

"It was the first time we've been here, and it's been awesome," Mr. Stein said while gripping his hand-held television. "We've had a great time."

"It is the most beautiful golf course I've ever, ever seen," Beaumont, Texas, resident Mark Harken said. "TV does not do it justice. It was great."

Daniel Field was buzzing late Sunday as pilots waited on the tar-mac for their passengers. Catering to private planes, Masters Week is one of the busiest for the airport.

"We have been really busy this week, but it's kind of like second nature to us because we have been doing it so long," said Steve Gay, owner of Augusta Aviation.

Throughout the week, hundreds of planes flew in and out of Daniel Field. On Sunday afternoon, approximately 75 planes sat waiting, and officials expected 30 more to fly in to pick up passengers.

"We have lots of planes that will just fly in, pick up their passengers and leave," Mr. Gay said.

Daniel Field Manager Buster Boshears said the guests left as quickly as they came. The airport had just about cleared out Sunday night, with only a few remaining.

"About a half a dozen planes will stay overnight and leave in the morning," Mr. Boshears said.

And although airport officials have become accustomed to the frenzy, they leave very little to chance.

Daniel Field hired additional employees to accommodate the traffic. A hospitality lounge was set up to make passengers and pilots more comfortable.

"We try to make things as comfortable as we can," Mr. Gay said. "Our air traffic controllers do an excellent job, as does the rest of the staff, to make sure that things flow smoothly."

Augusta Regional Airport officials anticipated the annual high volume of departing visitors. A recently added radar scope, dedicated solely to directing outbound flight traffic, was expected to alleviate the situation.

"We will be able to handle a greater volume of departures and give more services to more of our customers in any given one hour period of time," Bush Field Air Traffic Manager Mike Gunn said.

"The demand on the national air space system will still far outdistance the availability we have, because everybody likes to leave from 5 to 7 p.m.," he said. "Everybody can't leave then for safety reasons, but this departure scope will play a large role in allowing us to provide many more services to our customers in an hour than at any time in the past."

The two other radars at Bush Field handle incoming and outgoing flights, Mr. Gunn said.

Staff Writer Mark Mathis contributed to this article.

Reach Ashlee Griggs at (706) 823-3351 or newsroom@augustachronicle.com.