Record Number Of Commercial Passengers Depart Nantucket Airport After Fourth Of July

David Creed •

A JetBlue plan departing from Nantucket. Photo by Kit Noble

Nantucket Memorial Airport set a record on Saturday for the most departing commercial airline passengers screened by TSA in a single day with 2,004 people leaving the island. Despite the rush of people flying out of Nantucket after the Fourth of July holiday, airport manager Noah Karberg said it went smoothly and credited his staff.

“It was our busiest passenger day in terms of passengers screened by TSA,” Karberg said. “We have 10 days like this per year. These are the days we staff and plan for. Saturday is still the peak turnover day because that is when we have two Chicago flights. We are fully staffed, and our staff is great. We have good fuel inventory. Air traffic, TSA, and everyone is working together and finding a way through it.”

Karberg said outside of the closure of "Taxiway Foxtrot," or Taxiway F, on Wednesday that remains in effect as of Sunday evening, there weren’t many disruptions for much of the weekend compared to the days leading up to the Fourth of July last year – where Karberg told the Current the airport was pushed to its limit amidst “the busiest 24-hour arrival stretch ever” which prompted ramp closures, limitations on fuel sales, and aircraft being parked on runway 15/33.

Karberg added that weather was not an issue for much of the holiday week/weekend, however, the airport’s good fortune ran out on Sunday as heavy fog caused delays and cancellations for commercial flights.

Delta Airlines canceled their scheduled flights early Sunday afternoon, as did American Airlines to LaGuardia Airport in New York. The airport then sent out a notice just before 2 p.m. on Sunday that they were advising passengers to have a backup travel and lodging plan, and that resources were posted at their Visitor Services desk.

“As soon as the fog lifts, we are probably going to get a mad rush of aircraft,” Karberg said.

The airport spent much of the day towing smaller aircraft and setting up the airfield to be prepared for that onslaught of commercial aircraft arriving all at once in anticipation of the fog lifting and flights resuming.

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“It is unfortunate, but Sunday is trending to be a combination of heavy fog and heavy travel during one of our busier travel days of the year,” Karberg said Sunday morning. “The biggest thing we are working to avoid here are stranded passengers. Like I told you for another article, the limitation is hotel rooms. There aren’t hotel rooms available. We want to make sure people have a chance to get off of Nantucket and back to their homes, and part of that comes down to if we get into late afternoon/early evening, we encourage the airlines to – if there are any doubts – to really take a hard look at the likelihood of getting a plane in and out on time so these passengers have a chance to take the boat and get off-island. That is part of the synergy between us and the Steamship that I think is overlooked.”

As for the private aviation and smaller airlines such as Cape Air, those flights continued for the most part on Sunday. Karberg said the congestion of the airfield forced his staff to get creative with aircraft parking situations. Some aircraft were parked on grass patches while others had just 10 feet of separation from the adjacent plane’s wing tip compared to the required minimum of 20 feet.

Plane on Grass Nantucket Airport
Private aircraft parked on the grass at the Nantucket Airport Sunday morning.

“I don’t know another airport that has staff that does this,” Karberg said. “Preston (Harimon, the assistant airport manager) and Blaine Buckley who is now retired, they have really passed the torch to Fred Wellington and Addison Falconer. They have really learned and developed all of this in-house. There is no handbook for how to do this, how to adapt. The great thing about our staff is they come up with these great ideas on their own and have found a way to utilize the ramp as it is now for overflow and long-term sort of quiet parking.”

The airport’s south apron expansion is expected to be completed by the end of the month, and one jet was parked in a finished portion over the weekend. Karberg said this expansion should help the congestion considerably, as well as make the airfield and his staff safer.

“We are accepting, not inviting people here,” Karberg said. “We aren’t telling people to go away either. It is sort of a passive activity. We forecast, we plan, and we try to staff and do things accordingly. A criticism we get is that we are just doing this to make more money. I am not shy about admitting selling jet fuel is how we make money and fund those projects without having to take them to the general tax base. It is harder on staff. We don’t get paid by the plane. It would make our jobs easier if we didn’t have to go through these acrobats on summer weekends and heavy traffic. But we do, and we can’t tell people not to come here.”

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A private jet parked on the new south apron expansion Sunday morning.
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