FAA flight data:  A glimpse at the jet set for Super Bowl, Final Four

By Mike Kaszuba

Three hours before Super Bowl LII began last year in Minneapolis, a charter flight listed simply as “Saudi VIP” arrived in the Twin Cities from Washington, D.C.  The plane would stay just a few hours – long enough for the game to be played – and then depart back to the U.S. Capitol shortly after midnight.

On the day of the February 4th game – considered the preeminent sporting event in America – a private jet whose ownership is linked to Anchin Block & Anchin (which describes itself as the largest single-office public accounting firm in North America) touched down at Holman Field in downtown Saint Paul.  Seven minutes later, a corporate jet, whose ownership address is listed as the offices of the National Football League’s (NFL) Dallas Cowboys, landed at the same airport.

Then there was a Falcon 900EX, which arrived on the day of the game and is listed as being owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy of Des Moines, Iowa, a subsidiary of a company owned by Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world.  The plane left Saint Paul shortly after the game.

New records obtained by Saint Paul-based non-profit Public Record Media (PRM) show that hundreds of private jets – including those owned by some of America’s elite banking and financial institutions – arrived in Minnesota for the game.  Dozens of private jets lined the snowy runways at Holman Field, which handled 480 Super Bowl-related arrivals, and was the most popular local airport for arriving guests.  An ice sculpture in the shape of the state of Minnesota greeted passengers at the airport’s Signature Flight Support building.

Much the same thing, albeit on a smaller scale, will occur early in April, when the Final Four college basketball tournament is held at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis – the same stadium that served as the site for Super Bowl LII.

Private flights to Super Bowl, Final Four

Last year, four local airports were told to prepare for as many as 1,500 Super Bowl-related flights — and the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) is predicting that the upcoming Final Four will draw an estimated 500 flights.

Because of the Final Four event, local airports will be under a “Prior Permission Required” flight restriction, a relatively rare occurrence that essentially means that a reservation must be made with an airport due to a large number of arriving aircraft.  The restriction was also used during last year’s Super Bowl. 

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records obtained by PRM offer an imprecise look at who arrived by private jet to attend the Super Bowl. The records, which list the corporate ownership of the planes, do not list the names of individuals actually on the planes.  The FAA records also show the planes’ ownership currently, and not necessarily at the time of the game last year.  Additionally, the records do not show whether the planes – or their occupants – were in the Twin Cities specifically for the game, or for other reasons.

But despite these limitations, flight records do show many jets belonging to some of the biggest corporations in America flying into the Twin Cities shortly before the game – sometimes just hours before kickoff – and then departing soon afterward.

A corporate jet owned by computer giant IBM flew to Saint Paul from South Florida two days before the game, and departed back to Florida on the day after the game.  Another corporate jet, owned by the Wells Fargo Trust Company, arrived in Saint Paul from Saint Louis the evening before the game, and then departed for Saint Louis again shortly after the game finished.

The FAA provided records for more than 2,500 private plane flights into and out of Twin Cities airports during the five days immediately before Super Bowl Sunday, as well as the three days afterwards.  The airports included Holman Field, Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, and the Anoka County-Blaine Airport.

Metropolitan Airport Commission records show private, military planes

In addition, MAC records obtained by PRM showed fifty one Super Bowl-related charter flights that arrived and departed from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport – including the “Saudi VIP” flight.  The documents also revealed that five charter flights (labeled simply as “Team 125” and further marked as “friends and family”) used the main airport during the days just before and after the game.

One charter flight, according to MAC records, arrived in the Twin Cities from Licenciado Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City two days before the game, and left the day after the Super Bowl, headed back for Mexico City.

MAC records also show “guaranteed parking” areas for both commercial and military aircraft.  The military planes included two F-16 fighter jets, and three A-10 “Warthog” aircraft belonging to the United States Air Force.  The A-10 is a single-seat jet designed for attacking ground targets.

MAC and federal aviation records showed that Flying Cloud Airport – like Saint Paul’s Holman Field — had more Super Bowl-related arrivals than the larger Minneapolis-Saint Paul International airport.

The 367 Super Bowl-related arrivals at Flying Cloud Airport included a corporate jet owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, which arrived in Minnesota the day before the game from Omaha, Nebraska, where the railroad has its corporate headquarters.  The plane departed for Omaha a few hours after the game.  Similarly, a private jet owned by Mississippi-based Sanderson Farms, which describes itself as the third largest poultry producer in the United States, arrived in Eden Prairie the day before the game and left the day after the Super Bowl.

Many of the planes flew from the U.S. east coast to Saint Paul’s relatively-small airfield and terminal.  For instance, a Gulfstream G-IV owned by the Bank of America arrived from New York the evening before the game, and was one of two Bank of America jets that left the Saint Paul airport the day after the Super Bowl.

A corporate jet owned by the Bank of Utah Trustee left Saint Paul for Morristown, New Jersey immediately after the game.  A second jet owned by the Bank of Utah Trustee left Saint Paul nine minutes later, also headed for Morristown.  And a third jet owned by the Bank of Utah Trustee landed in Saint Paul on the day after the Super Bowl, and then left for New Jersey less than an hour later.

FAA records also showed that a Learjet 60 owned by the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company arrived the day before the game.  The NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles (who won Super Bowl LII) play in a stadium – Lincoln Financial Field – where the insurance company’s corporate umbrella group has a naming rights contract.

A Gulfstream G550, listed as being owned by Norlease Inc. of Chicago, likewise arrived the afternoon before the game.  Norlease is a subsidiary of the Northern Trust Company, a wealth management company whose website states that “we serve the world’s most sophisticated clients – from sovereign wealth funds and the wealthiest individuals and families, to the most-successful hedge funds and corporate brands.”

According to its website, Northern Trust had assets of $10.1 trillion “under custody/administration” as of the end of 2018.

Aircraft arrived from fields large and small

In some cases, planes bound for the Super Bowl arrived from small airfields.

Two days before the game, a plane owned by the Wilmington Trust Company Trustee arrived in Saint Paul from a small Nebraska airport near the city of Aurora.  The plane left Saint Paul, bound back to Nebraska, on the morning after the Super Bowl.  According to the company’s website, Wilmington Trust is one of the twenty largest independent commercial bank holding companies in the United States, with $120 billion in assets.

Three days before the Super Bowl, the Minnesota Vikings held an event for NFL team owners at the Union Depot near the Saint Paul airport.  The evening featured a private concert by musical performer Sting. 

On the day of the February 1st party, a corporate jet owned by the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers arrived in Saint Paul from John Wayne-Orange County Airport in California.  Another corporate jet, owned by Blue Star Management Services – a company affiliated with the Dallas Cowboys – arrived in Saint Paul that same evening from Dallas.

Also, a corporate jet affiliated with the Indianapolis Colts arrived in Saint Paul on the day of the NFL party, stayed for just 34 minutes, and then flew back to Indianapolis.  The plane returned again on Super Bowl Sunday, landing shortly before the game began.  James Irsay, the Colts’ owner, was listed by Forbes Magazine as having a net worth of $2.7 billion.

Flight records reveal aircraft ownership

Other flights were also notable, though FAA records provided few clues as to the individuals behind the limited liability companies listed as the planes’ owners.  One plane, owned by Eagle One II LLC, of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, left from Palm Beach (Florida) International Airport on the morning of the game, landed in Saint Paul, and then left Saint Paul the day after the game, bound for Hartford, Connecticut.

The planes that arrived on the day of the Vikings’ Super Bowl party included another significant entry:  a corporate jet owned by the University of Notre Dame, one of the country’s most prestigious private universities.  The plane arrived on the afternoon of the party, but departed in the early evening – just as the party was taking place — leaving it unclear whether the flight was related to the event. 

The FAA records also documented the comings and goings of private planes whose ownership is listed at being at the same New Jersey address used by businesses affiliated with the Wilf family, the owners of the Vikings.

On February 1st, the day of the Vikings’ party, a private plane owned by Transnet Aviation Group LLC left Morristown, New Jersey and arrived at Saint Paul’s Holman Field early in the afternoon.  According to FAA records, Transnet Aviation’s address is 820 Morris Turnpike, Short Hills, New Jersey – the same address used by one of the Wilf family’s development companies.

Another private plane, owned by Short Hills Aviators LLC, also left Morristown the same afternoon and arrived in Saint Paul shortly after 4:30 p.m.  FAA records reveal that Short Hills Aviators also has a business address of 820 Morris Turnpike, Short Hills.

A third private plane, owned by Guardian Aviation Services LLC, arrived in Saint Paul on the day before the Super Bowl from Northeast Philadelphia Airport.  According to FAA records, that company likewise operated out of offices at 820 Morris Turnpike, Short Hills.

The private planes flying into Minnesota at the time of the Super Bowl were not all registered in the U.S.

Though it is unclear whether the flights were related to the game, ten flights involving private planes registered in the United Kingdom arrived and departed from the Saint Paul and Anoka-Blaine airports on the day before the game.