Formula One
3:09 pm
Fri June 15, 2012

Austin Ponders the Winning F1 Formula

Get your helicopter permits in now.

That was one of the takeaways from a presentation to the Austin City Council yesterday, regarding planning underway for the Circuit of the Americas’ inaugural Formula One race this November – displaying the size, scope and expense of hosting the Grand Prix.

“We don’t know where to direct them,” council member Mike Martinez said of entrepreneurs inquiring about helicopter permits to chauffeur high-rolling F1 attendees. “They’re asking us questions that we’ve never heard of before, like where do we land a helicopter in downtown.”

(The correct answer, by the way, is Austin Bergstrom International Airport’s Air Operations Group," said ABIA Executive Director Jim Smith. “Apparently the people who have a lot more money than us don’t like to mess with us on the road, so they like helicopter transportation,” he said.)

But chopper permits aren’t the worst of the airport’s worries. ABIA director Smith noted the airport has also been fielding questions about chartered 747 flights from overseas – but wouldn’t know for sure how many they’ll be facing for months.

“The reason for that is they’re only required to give you notification 30 days in advance,” Smith said. “We’re not going know until a month before the race how many charters are going to be showing up.” He did add that Indianapolis, the last U.S. city to host F1, “ended up with six to 11 charters, depending on which year it was.”

ABIA is currently built to process one 737 passenger plane, carrying up to 140 passengers – not a 747 with some 400 passengers, “or several 747s lined up,” Smith said. That will necessitate construction of a temporary, 25,000 square foot customs terminal, capable of processing up to 400 people per hour. Smith didn't specify a cost but said it would be “substantial." The temporary terminal proposal is scheduled to come before the council June 28. (An image of the terminal, courtesy the City of Austin, can be seen here.)

The airport may need that processing power. November’s Grand Prix is expected to attract up to 300,000 visitors to the area, with 80 percent of these visitors coming from outside of Texas, Deputy Director of Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Rodney Gonzales told the council. He added that 120,000 of those out-of-towners are expected to attend the race, and about 42,000 visitors – 35 percent of attendees – are expected to arrive on international flights.

Many of the 2,400 F1 drivers and their teams are scheduled to arrive on Tuesday, November 13 – the day after the Veterans Day holiday. On Thursday, two days following the drivers’ arrival, most of the fans are expected to arrive.

A series of practice races take place Friday and Saturday, with the Grand Prix event scheduled for Sunday.

The majority of teams and fans are expected to depart Monday, November 19, just days before Thanksgiving and the UT home game against TCU. (Mercifully, the Longhorns aren’t playing in Austin on the race weekend.)

A total of eight local, state and national agencies are involved in joint planning for transportation and public safety surrounding the event, including the City of Austin, Federal Homeland Security and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The city also developed eight planning teams to serve as task forces combating specific problems related to the race. These teams will take on challenges related to transportation, public safety and hospitality and marketing – the latter including two downtown events (“Formula Fest” and a Circuit of the Americas Festival) over the race weekend.

The transportation team is developing ways to ensure the safe travel of fans and teams to the event with as little traffic disruption to residents as possible. The city also developed two park-and-ride locations are expected to serve more than 70,000 patrons.

Simply put, the city’s pulling out all the stops to, as airport director Smith put it, “build its brand image on an international basis.”

“To my untutored eye it looks like you’ve thought of everything,” council member Bill Spelman told deputy director Gonzales at the end of his presentation. “But let me ask you the basic question: how is it that you know you’ve thought of everything?”

“The good news is there’s a lot of people thinking,” Gonzales replied, adding “As you know this is a ten year event. The way we that feel is that year one is going to be very impactful, for as to whether or not years two through ten will be successful. So we need for this to be a success.”

You can view the city’s presentation on their Formula One preparations here