Forty-two planes owned by the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University evacuated from Daytona, Florida, to Auburn University Regional Airport on Saturday to avoid being damaged by Hurricane Irma as she approaches the Florida peninsula.
Many of the planes would land within minutes of each other with the first aircraft arriving at 3:30 a.m. and the last one at 7:30 a.m.
“For a brief moment in time, Auburn’s going to be the busiest airport in the Southeast," said Steve Swartz, a flight instructor for Auburn University’s flight school.
In 2004, many of Embry-Riddle’s planes were damaged by Hurricane Charley, and since then, Embry-Riddle has been evacuating planes to Auburn. Irma, now a powerful Category 3 Hurricane, is preparing to make landfall early Sunday morning in South Florida.
For the last several days, Floridians have been evacuating further north to escape the most powerful parts of the Hurricane. But the eye of the weakened storm is expected to pass just east of Auburn next week, and if that happens, Swartz said the planes could have to be evacuated further north. It will likely be a tropical storm at that point, according to the National Weather Service.
But for now, Airport Assistant Director Todd Storey the airport is happy to provide the space and the help.
The planes were flown by Embry-Riddle students and faculty who are planning to stay here until there is no longer any threat from Irma. When asked how long the pilots would be in Auburn, flight instructor and Embry-Riddle student Matthew Mackenstein said probably until Tuesday or Wednesday.
After landing on Runway 36, each plane was escorted by a pilot truck to the west tarmac where a waiting van would shuttle pilots to the terminal area.
“Very excited to come here, first time in Auburn, I’d like to see some new places, some new people," said Mackenstein, shortly after landing in Auburn.
Auburn student volunteers came to the airport terminal to welcome and help pilots.
Auburn students are enthusiastic about Aviation and willing to provide support, which is a good testament to what Auburn University’s about, Storey said.
Seth Swiecichowski, who is a certified pilot and an Auburn freshman studying aerospace, was one of the students who volunteered to come Saturday morning.
"[I] know that their fleet was destroyed a couple years ago, and I just wanted to help out," Swiecichowski said.
Many Auburn residents and children also came to AUO this morning to watch the planes arrive.