AUSTIN (KXAN) — “It seems like one of the big staple festivals, like Coachella, Firefly and Austin City Limits– seems like one of those,” said Rhythm “Slash” Luna.
He’s in town with his band, Neil Frances, to play at the ACL Festival on Saturday afternoon.
“There were plenty of people on our flight coming to the music festival,” said bandmate Marc “Kurt Cobain” Gilfry.
Some flying into town happen to have other events.
“I knew we had to be here. I knew it was going to be busy, but I’m looking forward to the wedding anyway,” said Joe Liesman, visiting from San Francisco.
Even those leaving Austin have ACL in mind.
“I live at the Domain, so I just decided to leave my house at a good time to leave room for if there was some traffic. I didn’t want to miss my flight,” said Chanel Brissett.
She’s headed to Atlanta for a weekend with friends.
“Everyone is flying in for the concert, it’s going to be this entire weekend, so people have been like preparing,” she said. “I just knew it was gonna be a lot of people here.”
She and others in Austin have been dealing with congested roads and a busy airport for several days now, and it isn’t over. The airport is still bracing for its busiest day ever. That means trying to avoid another fuel shortage.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport spokesperson Sam Haynes said airlines make up a fuel consortium at the airport and contract out to a provider. When they see a high volume of aircraft activity, the fuel operations provider will have to issue fuel shortage alerts, Haynes explained.
“Which means that on the airport that they are leaving from to get to Austin, they fuel a little bit more,” she said. “Lets them know that there’s not available fuel for them to refuel, once they land at the Austin airport.”
Or, she said, the airplane would have to make a pit stop to fill up before getting to Austin.
She said that happened last year during the Formula 1 race weekend, which broke the record for the airport’s busiest day of the year.
“So, that is something that we’ll certainly have to be keeping an eye out for during F1,” Haynes said.
The Monday after F1 is expected to break another record this year. To prepare for that, Haynes said the fuel operations provider will be doing something new: using an alternate route for fuel trucks that come into the airport from Bastrop.
“They will use a mix of the regular route when traffic isn’t so backed up and then will use the alternate route when traffic levels are high on Highway 71,” Haynes explained.
She said the airport’s aviation department will monitor traffic levels and let the consortium and fueling operations provider know when Highway 71 is congested.
“That alternative route could be longer in distance but what we’re hopeful for is that those drivers won’t be sitting in F1 traffic along 71, along with all those cars that are trying to get into the track,” Haynes said.
She said they couldn’t release those possible routes due to security reasons.
Airport officials will also be keeping Spirit of Texas Drive open for the fuel trucks to get in and out of the airport quickly, Haynes said.
“We’ll be giving them access through that roadway and rerouting traffic that would use that road for the Cell Phone Lot a different way to access the Cell Phone Lot during the F1 time,” she said.
Haynes also said the fuel service provider “bases the frequency and volume of fuel truck deliveries based on demand of the flight schedule, which is expected to be higher during F1 weekend due to increased aircraft activity across cargo, charter, general aviation and commercial flights.”
For passengers, if a fuel shortage alert is issued, Haynes said this could mean your flight might have to divert to another airport to fuel up before landing in Austin.
“This is less likely with smaller, domestic-flying aircraft and more likely with the larger transatlantic flights and aircraft,” Haynes said.
She said at least one British Airways flight had to divert last year.
“It’s not likely passengers would see any canceled or rescheduled flights,” she said.
Haynes said she’s not aware of any flights that had to divert before landing this year, but that’s something each airline would have to confirm.
Fuel shortage alerts increasing at AUS
Fuel shortage alerts are being issued more often in general at AUS.
So far this year, officials said there have already been 12 — one of the most recent in March during South by Southwest, Nascar and PGA events.
Officials said they had 12 alerts all of last year and just one in 2020.
“It is something that we’re starting to see on a more regular basis, just because the airlines have really, really scaled up their operations from Austin,” Haynes said.
But the airport’s fuel storage capacity has remained the same since the storage was built in 1998, she said.
“Right now, the average fuel operations that can support is about anywhere from a half-day to a two-to-three-day supply. But the industry average is more along five to seven,” Haynes explained.
She said the airport is partnering with the fuel consortium to build a new fuel facility, which will more than double the on-hand fuel supply.
Construction on that began this spring and is expected to open sometime in 2024, she said. It’s one of more than 60 airport master plan projects identified through the master plan process in 2018 and 2019.