Corporate America is throttling back on flying private jets to Super Bowl XLIII.
Some 750 private jets flown in for the event will be parked at airports across the Tampa Bay area when the big game kicks off Sunday. That's down from about 1,000 at the 2008 Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., and more than 1,250 for Tampa's last NFL championship game, in 2001.
Corporate belt-tightening and the outcry over bailout recipients such as General Motors flying executives in high style could be to blame, says Mark Moberg, president of Leading Edge Aviation at Tampa Executive Airport.
"Between the economy and all the corporate jet scrutiny, it seems to be off,'' said Moberg, whose company services private jets at the former Vandenberg Airport east of Tampa.
Jets.com of Quincy, Mass., sold 55 jet charters to last year's Super Bowl, said chief executive Nathan McKelvey. As of Thursday, his company had booked 18 trips to Tampa this weekend.
The numbers reflect an overall downturn in private jet use in the past few months, especially for entertaining clients and executives on luxury trips to events such as the Super Bowl, McKelvey said.
"What you're seeing at GM and Ford, for example, is a lot of pressure to unload private jets,'' McKelvey said. "Everybody wants to free up liquid cash. So you see a lot of companies selling off or not accepting delivery of (new) jets.''
Security rules imposed since Tampa's last Super Bowl make it less convenient for private jets around game time. The Federal Aviation Administration set up a no-fly zone within 10 miles of Raymond James Stadium — which includes Tampa International and Tampa Executive — from 4 p.m. to midnight.
"We just don't know'' the reason for the decrease in private jets, said Ed Cooley, a senior director at Tampa International who oversees general aviation planning for the Super Bowl Host Committee. "We really just know the reservation numbers are not the same as last time.''
A steady flow of small jets touched down Friday afternoon at Tampa International and St. Petersburg-Clearwater International. Both airports closed secondary runways, turning them into private jet parking lots.
Tampa International was booked solid Friday morning with reservations for just more than 300. Some 40 to 50 more could be sent to Tampa Executive, said Cooley. Tampa International parked 430 private jets for the 2001 Super Bowl. They were smaller than today's jets, and all fit on the same runway.
St. Petersburg-Clearwater International has 200 reservations, 50 fewer than 2001. Other jets will stay as far away as Sarasota and Lakeland.
Lloyd Tillmann, operations manager at the Pinellas airport, says he won't know if people showing up for the Super Bowl are CEOs or celebrities.
"I don't know who's in the jets, if they're from a large corporation or one of the Big Three (automakers),'' he said. "They're flying this way for one reason: privacy.''
Steve Huettel can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3384.