Sports & Recreation

Hollister Airport seeks to be landing spot for Super Bowl fans

Behind the scenes and on the ground, preparations have been ongoing for a year leading up to Sunday's big game

By mid-week, phone calls to the Hollister Jet Center were increasing steadily each day as the opening kickoff of Super Bowl 50 approached. The callers, from Los Angeles to Illinois and South Carolina, wanted to know just one thing—were there any open slots to land and take off. According to Mike Chambless, airport director, slots were still available—no thanks to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Chambless, who called himself the “behind-the-scenes” managing and marketing guy at the airport, is the main contact with the FAA. He said because of the influx of aircraft coming into the Bay Area for the Super Bowl, the FAA is limiting the number of arrivals and departures per hour at all surrounding airports.

“The way they determined those numbers for each airport was to poll the people who went to the Super Bowl a couple years ago about which airports they were interested flying in to,” Chambless said. “Nobody picked Hollister.”

As a result, Hollister was left out the initial divvying up the slots, he said.

“I found out about it and fought them and they gave us some slots,” he said. “Unfortunately, we only have nine slots (per hour) departing on Super Bowl Sunday. Those are the primo slots and all of them are full.”

Chambless said it appears people are having their jets flown to Hollister in order to wait for them after the Super Bowl because it is outside of the air restriction area. He said the restrictions around the Super Bowl can be in place up through midnight Sunday, so apparently their plan is to come to Hollister to fly out. While the airport has numerous slots available Monday, he said it appears most people intend to fly in and out Sunday.

While the Super Bowl presents a unique marketing opportunity to promote Hollister’s airport to corporations, it is only a part, albeit an important one, of the overall strategy.

Chambless said he developed the strategy in 2015 to market the airport as a potential development opportunity for businesses. Early in the process, the Super Bowl was identified as a good target for the message because, as Chambless put it, the Super Bowl is a corporate event at this stage.

“I think 90 percent of the people who attend are corporate business,” he said. “That’s who we want to receive our message that Hollister has space available and it’s a unique opportunity to move their business here. That’s why we’re using this event as part of the overall strategy to get the message out to these corporations.”

Chambless said he worked with KION TV in Salinas on a campaign that cost $15,000 to design a website ( geared to the Super Bowl that includes “transient visitor information,” such as restaurants, golf courses, hotels and car rentals. It also has information about flight restrictions in general and how Hollister is just outside of those, so the corporation’s aircraft won’t be bothered by them if they come to the area anytime, and not just for the Super Bowl.

“KION developed a 30-second commercial targeting Super Bowl traffic,” Chambless said. “That’s also on the website. In addition to that, we also developed an electronic marketing program with KION that allows us to draw a virtual fence around a location where anyone using a mobile device within that boundary who goes to an aviation website will see a Super Bowl ad for Hollister’s airport.”

He said the virtual fence concept was put into place at the beginning of the football season around the major stadiums where fans might see the ad. The campaign continued through the entire season and as the playoffs whittled the teams down the fences were redrawn around those team stadiums still in the competition.

“We’ve also been marketing with NBAA (National Business Aviation Association),” he said. “We attended two of their trade shows to market the airport in person.”

This particular part of his strategy also targeted corporate people going to the Super Bowl with the hope that they would come to Hollister, see the facility and perhaps decide it was easier to work out of Hollister than San Jose or other Bay Area airports.

“Is it a long shot?” he asked rhetorically. “Sure. But it can’t hurt anything.”

Chambless said he won’t know if the gambit paid off until Feb. 19, when he will receive the analytics from the website. For the time being, however, the calls continue to come in.

“We have gotten six to 12 calls a day about coming here during the Super Bowl,” he said. “Those are for the jets that have filed flight plans. The smaller airplanes, we could have a 100 of those just show up. We really don’t know.”

He said he’s not really anticipating that many small planes showing up, but he was worried it could happen when the Arizona Cardinals were still in the competition for a spot in the Super Bowl.

“It would be nothing for someone to hop in a plane and fly over here to party,” he said. “But Denver and the Carolinas are a little more difficult to fly a Cessna here. You just don’t know until they show up.”

While Chambless works behind the scenes, the on-the-ground guy is Dave Leonardo, president of Hollister Jet Center. Actually, there are two Dave Leonardos, father and son, who control day-to-day operations: moving planes around, assuring there is sufficient fuel available, and the myriad of other tasks required to keep the planes maneuvering safely on the ground and in the air.

The elder Leonardo said on Feb. 1 that Chambless’s figures of how many slots were filled had already changed.

“Just 15 minutes ago we got a call,” he said. “We got several today and every day we get more. People are waiting until the last minute, but San Jose is filled up and so are the surrounding airports, so this is an option."

Leonardo said  the FAA originally only gave Hollister four slots per hour and two departures after the Super Bowl. He said most people want to leave right after the game and that is causing a problem. He said his son, who has been camping out at the facility for several days, has been handling the reservations and went back to the FAA to try to secure more slots, and between his and Chambless’s efforts they got three more Sunday departures per hour.

A number of charter companies have also called wanting to know what slots were still available so they could go back to their clients to figure out when they want to come and leave, Leonoardo noted.

“We’re expecting it to get tense on Saturday when people decide at the last minute to go,” he said. “I think San Jose filled up Thursday of last week and people started calling over here about slots, which we wouldn’t even have if Mike hadn’t fought for them. They (FAA) completely forgot about us.”

The airport has received a number of calls from Colorado, as well as North Carolina and Connecticut.

In gearing up for Super Bowl, Leonardo said that for the past eight months he has been building another fuel truck and has some 10,000 gallons of fuel ready, without know if he will actually need it or not, but said it’s better to have it than not. Meanwhile, he said Chambless took care of sprucing up the airport itself, pulling weeds, sweeping the entire area and moving planes around to accommodate the larger jets that would be coming.

Leonardo said, interestingly enough, that when people call to arrange landings and takeoffs, most do not say how they intend to get to and from the game. A couple, he said, asked what transportation is available and he recommended Avis or Enterprise. He said they can arrange to have the cars ready at the airport for them. He said they have also recommended LTD Limo Service.

“We also recommend, since we have slots open on Monday, that they spend the night,” he said. “We have a couple nice restaurants and hotels, One that’s on our website is Pasada de San Juan, in San Juan Bautista, which is a beautiful hotel. Then there’s Best Western just down the road.”

Best Western, with 44 rooms, reported earlier in the week that it was already fully booked for Super Bowl weekend.

“If they’re booked up it’s probably going to be for pilots,” Leonardo said. “The passengers are going to the game and the pilots are going to stick around here. An of the pilots who we know of I’ll probably aim them toward Posada de San Juan. I asked Mike who he would recommend and he said there’s a bed-and-breakfast, Joshua’s Inn, here in town, so I'll probably recommend it too. A lot of the pilots are just looking for a day room. They just want to get some sleep and maybe watch the game.”

He said he makes crew cars available to the pilots if they just want to drive into town to find a place to eat.

Of course, private jets normally are the transport of business VIPs and celebrities. Leonardo said he wasn’t aware if any would be aboard the planes landing at Hollister. He said there may be some last-minute VIPs and because of the TFRs (temporary flight restrictions), just before the game starts and possibly up to midnight, there will be no departing flights.

“So, some last minute owners, managers or players might be looking at Hollister as an option,” he said. “We were told that when somebody calls Hollister with a VIP status we are to call the coordinator up there immediately with the aircraft number and the name (of the VIP) and they would be given a discreet code and they would be given permission to land at Hollister along with the logistics beyond that would be determined later. That made me feel good, that Hollister is on the map, to some degree.”

Between Chambless’s efforts and the one-time opportunity that the Super Bowl provides, a spotlight has been cast on Hollister. Leonardo said he was contacted eight months ago by NetJets (a company that offers fractional ownership and rental of private business jets), which was looking at the Hollister Airport precisely because it was outside the restricted area.

“Those entities are fractional ownerships, meaning they have a number of partners and so they drop a partner off here and we take the passengers over to the office for coffee as we fuel the plane and then they go off to meet another partner,” he said. “We’re expecting that to happen and have an area of the ramp reserved for what we call ‘quick turns,’ so we meet them with coffee, ice, fuel, take their passengers and sign them up for cars or whatever they need.”

Even though security around the Bay Area and Levi Stadium in Santa Clara has been ramped up, especially after the Paris attack last year, Leonardo said no one has communicated to him a need to increase it in Hollister.

Leonardo said that if he were to provide transportation in the 15-passenger van he rented for the purpose to Levi Stadium, the passengers would have to be dropped off at a collection point away from the stadium because only taxis and Uber cars are being allowed near it.

For more information on the Hollister Jet Center click here:

For more information on Hollister Airport, temporary restrictions during Super Bowl 50, and area offerings click here:








John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]