Anderson Regional Airport Director Justin Julian expects his staff of 10 to experience "a bit of a learning curve" Monday, when the airport welcomes what might be the largest number of arrivals and departures in more than 50 years.
Conversations in recent weeks with charter and private pilots from around the country lead Julian to expect as many as 200 planes at the ARA Monday, as aircraft groups seek a spot in the path of the total solar eclipse.
"Right now, we're looking at roughly 200 planes coming here. Today we started advising pilots that we're running out of parking space," Julian said Wednesday.
"We'll be busy. It will be exciting," said Julian, whose staff of 10 is braced for a record amount of traffic as a general aviation airport. "We're used to getting a fair amount of planes in on Clemson football game days. But not the kind of volume we expect Monday. This will definitely be a larger event than anything we've handled before."
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The airport, built in the 1940s, once enjoyed heavy traffic as Eastern Airlines and later Southern Airlines operated commercial flights from the facility about three miles south of downtown Anderson. But after the emergence of the Greenville-Spartanburg (then) Jetport in 1962, commercial activity declined in Anderson. It became a regional airport in 1965.
A Cessna and Falcon corporate jet are parked outside a door at the Anderson Airport terminal in Anderson earlier this year. (Photo: Independent Mail)
Airport officials plan to close one of the two runways Monday, a move that will provide 5,000 feet of parking space while at the same time accommodating the normal business travelers.
"We'll do what we can." Julian said. "A lot depends on the weather. If it's cloudy here and there are clear skies in Columbia, I'm sure our numbers will decrease. And if it's the other way around, I'm sure pilots will be calling Monday morning to see if they can get in."
Clemson home football games typically make for busy days at the Oconee County Regional Airport, where big games sometimes lure 70 aircraft to the facility that is only a five-minute drive from the campus. Director Jeff Garrison expects at least that many planes Monday, based on the number of pilots who have asked to reserve parking spots.
"We'll have visitors coming in from all over — planes from south Florida, up North, and everywhere in between," Garrison said, "but we're running out of places to park them. At this point, we're accepting planes that can drop passengers and go, but we don't have anywhere to park more planes."
At the Greenville Downtown Airport, which is the busiest general aviation airport in South Carolina, the number of reservation requests was so high that fixed-based operator Greenville Jet Center, stopped taking reservations.
"They're going to operate on a first-come, first-served basis," said director Joe Frasher, who expects the biggest traffic day since the the early 1960s, when the airport near North Pleasantburg Drive was Greenville's primary port.
The overflow crowd will be a first at the Pickens County Airport near Liberty, which is not normally affected by events at Clemson or Greenville.
"In my 11 years here, we've never had this kind of influx. We've had some busy days, but nothing to this degree," director Ted Edwards said of the expected arrivals on Monday.
Six jets and 20 small planes have received permission to park at the airport Monday, which leaves Edwards with limited parking space.
"We can't take any more jets, and we can squeeze in a few more small planes because we can park them on grass," Edwards said. "We hate to turn people away, but we have only so much real estate."