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‘It’s never too early to start planning’

Local airports gearing up for Packers season, NFL Draft

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June 3, 2024

NORTHEAST WISCONSIN – With the Green Bay Packers season only a few months away and preparations for the 2025 NFL Draft next April underway, two Northeastern Wisconsin airports – Appleton International Airport (ATW) and Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB) – are busy making plans.

The Packers’ preseason schedule includes trips to Cleveland and Denver before opening the regular season in Brazil against the Philadelphia Eagles Sept. 6.

The Pack also makes trips to Tennessee, Los Angeles, Jacksonville, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle and Minnesota during the season.

Jesse Funk, ATW’s air service and business development manager, said planning starts immediately after the schedule is released. 

“We watch the Packers’ schedule closely,” he said. “I watched the release on TV like everyone else. We look for opportunities that fit with our airline partners, whether it be their hubs or places they fly to frequently.”

ATW is served by American, Delta and United Airlines and is the only Wisconsin airport served by Allegiant Airlines.

Funk said Allegiant has already announced three non-stop flights for three Packers away games for the upcoming season – Nashville (Titans), Los Angeles (Rams) and Jacksonville (Jaguars).

  • Nashville: The original Sept. 20, departure from Appleton to Nashville (BNA) was shifted to Saturday, Sept. 21, with a 9 a.m. departure. A return flight was also added Sept. 23 – meaning there are now flights departing Nashville for ATW at 11:06 a.m. and 4:37 p.m. 
  • Los Angeles: A 2:50 p.m. flight departure to Los Angeles (LAX) was added Oct. 4. An 8:30 a.m. departure from LAX to ATW was added for Oct. 7. 
  • Jacksonville: A 7:30 a.m. flight to Jacksonville (JAX) was added Oct. 25. A noon departure from Jacksonville to ATW was added Oct. 28. 

“Allegiant has a base here, so it’s always nice when they can launch flights from here,” Funk said. “Last year, for example, Allegiant added flights to Las Vegas for the Packers Monday night game against the Raiders – Las Vegas is Allegiant’s headquarters.”

Funk said the game in Seattle (Sunday, Dec. 15) is an example of where it might be hard to add a non-stop flight through Allegiant.  

Jesse Funk, Appleton International Airport’s (ATW) air service & business development manager, said the Appleton Flight Center (private jet arrivals) will also see a big increase in airline traffic due to the 2025 NFL Draft being held in Green Bay. Submitted Photo

“The closest Allegiant base is in Bellingham, Washington, which is a fair distance (89 miles) from Seattle,” he said. “That may not be a great opportunity to add a direct flight through Allegiant.”

Though not impossible, Funk said if Allegiant were to offer a non-stop flight to Seattle, it would have to contract a ground-handling company to offload bags, etc.

“Allegiant doesn’t have an operation at the Seattle airport,” he said. “If you’re contracting services, that gets a bit more expensive. Seattle would be a much better opportunity for one of the other airlines – such as Delta, which has a hub in Seattle – to add additional flights.”

Funk said ATW is chatting with all airlines regarding flight additions, “but Allegiant is the most responsive regarding these types of special events.”

Each airline, he said, is also different in terms of how quickly they offer additional flights.

“Our legacy carriers – American, Delta and United – are already booked out until next spring,” he said. “Allegiant has its schedule out through about mid-February. Because Allegiant doesn’t deal with connecting flights – it’s all point-to-point travel – those flights are pretty much set. It’s never too early to start planning.”

Marty Piette, GRB director, said as soon as the Packers’ schedule is released, “they immediately look at it.”

“Traditionally, our airlines have upgraded or added flights, provided larger aircraft with additional seats and added more frequency,” he said. “There also might be some additional hub frequency or special non-stops for the better-traveled games. I was at a conference recently giving our airlines those (Packers’ away dates).”

Piette said no specific flights have been added to GRB’s fall schedule… yet.

“(Airlines) will look at demand (for the away games) as we get closer to the games,” he said. “We might see a special non-stop flight added soon, say something to the East Coast or Dallas – we might see that sooner … they’ll monitor demand.”

2025 NFL Draft

With an estimated 250,000 fans expected to head to Lambeau Field April 24-26 next year, Green Bay is officially “on the clock.” 

With the draft only 10 months away, Funk said talks have already begun for preparations.

“It’s a different dynamic, though,” he said. “With the draft being in Green Bay, there is no other market in the NFL that has two regional airports in such close proximity as we have here.”

Though the draft is in Green Bay, Funk said, that doesn’t mean ATW won’t see lots of action, too.

“Given the limited hotels in the Green Bay area, and the fact the NFL and its media partners are taking up a good portion of those hotels, we know a lot of fans will be staying in the Appleton area,” he said. “If they are staying in the Appleton area, it probably makes more sense for them to fly into ATW than GRB.”

Funk said and it’s not only about commercial flights – he expects a big jump in private planes flying into ATW.

“It’ll be a big increase, but not quite to the level of EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) in Oshkosh,” he said. “That’s another good option for people flying in.”

Jesse Funk

Funk said by late fall, ATW’s airline partners will probably have “things firmed up for the draft.”

“I can’t give an exact date, but by fall, the airlines should be all set to go,” he said. “If each airline adds a flight or two, and if they fill quickly, they’ll likely make more accommodations. It depends on the demand.”

Regarding GRB, Piette said it’s still too early to look at increased flights for the draft.

“It’s a topic of discussion at this point,” he said. “Though the draft is officially only three days long, we have let our airlines know it’s probably more of a seven to 10-day event – leading up to the event, bringing media in, the draft itself and then tear down. As we get closer, we’ll make updates.”

Like Funk, Piette said, he, too, expects to see a huge jump in private jets coming into GRB.

“I think that’s where we’ll see most of our activity,” he said. “The airlines can only do so much with pilot and equipment issues plaguing the industry. Executive Air and Jet Air Group both handle private aircraft – so I think that’s where we will see the majority of our additional traffic coming from – there will be more planning required for that.”

Piette said both the commercial and private sectors of the airport have a significant impact on GRB.

“Any revenue generated from Executive Air and Jet Air Group is additional revenue and economic impact,” he said. “Every gallon of fuel sold or every parking space bought, it’s all good for the economy.” 

Piette said he’s not sure how many fans will show up for the 2025 Draft.

“Lambeau Field is a bucket-list place for fans to travel to,” he said. “We’re anticipating at least 100,000 more people through the airport – that’s what Nashville saw (for the 2019 draft). If we see 50,000 more people, that’s great, but we’re planning for 100,000.”

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