On a typical day, only a handful of private planes land at the Casper-Natrona County International Airport. Only slightly more commercial planes touch down on the runways surrounded by sagebrush and pronghorn.
But between Sunday evening and Monday morning, almost 200 private aircraft with just over 1,000 passengers are set to touch down outside the Oil City.
“That translates into one aircraft landing every two minutes,” said airport manager Glenn Januska.
As of Friday, 167 of those planes were scheduled to land between 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. Monday, less than one hour before the total solar eclipse will pass over Casper.
The Casper airport poses a number of advantages for well-heeled eclipse chasers wondering where to park their private jets. First, it sits in the path of totality, meaning that visitors can land and stay at the airport to view the eclipse. Second, it is one of the only airports its size — and the only one in Wyoming — with a customs officer, allowing international travelers to fly directly into Casper. Third, its past as a World War II military airfield has led to more and larger runways than most small airports.
That last element is important because it requires a lot of room to park the dozens and dozens of private aircraft looking to land for the eclipse.
Once the planes land, the Casper branch of Atlantic Aviation, a national airport logistics company, will oversee parking and accommodations for the visitors. For those planning to stay at the airport, a hospitality tent will be set up just outside the perimeter of the airfield. Food will be provided by local Arrowhead Catering, known for its beef brisket and barbecue.
Atlantic has noted on its website that both Casper and the Sun Valley, Idaho, airport are experiencing increased traffic related to the eclipse. The company is used to a crush of aircraft arriving for special events, like boxing fights at the Las Vegas airport, but this is unusual for Casper.
“Casper doesn’t get to host events,” said Atlantic’s Casper general manager Jennifer Sorenson. “It’s a really neat opportunity for our community, and it’s exciting for me.”
The last time a notable number of planes landed at the airport was during the 2012 Sheep Herder Hill Fire on Casper Mountain. Many of those were carrying emergency personnel.
Sorenson said Atlantic started preparing for the eclipse about 18 months ago. Reservation requests picked up in August — of last year. They’ve only increased within the last few months.
Most people who have contacted Sorenson about landing in Casper for the eclipse had already made up their minds that central Wyoming was where they wanted to be for the celestial event.
“They were headstrong on coming to Casper,” Sorenson said.
Atlantic can’t disclose much more information about their customers, like where they are arriving from, though Sorenson said that aircraft would be coming from around the world and both coasts.
Casper Customs and Border Protection officer Dale Leatham confirmed in March that people from 19 different countries had inquired about landing in Natrona County for the eclipse.
Januska and Sorenson said that the airport is ready for the influx of arrivals. While the number of planes coming in will be much higher than normal — air traffic control will begin communicating with the planes in Denver, well before they arrive in Casper — but that won’t require any drastic changes.
“Our duties for the airport have not changed too much,” Januska said.
Sorenson said that Atlantic had sent in more staff to handle the eclipse, doubling the standard crew to about 30 workers. The team will show up very early on Monday morning, she said, prior to when planes start arriving at 5 a.m.
“We’ll just start parking them as they come off the runway and we’ll have a very fluid and safe operation,” Sorenson said.
Air traffic will be halted for a period just before and after the eclipse to avoid any distractions or safety hazards during the event.
Januska said that he’s already fielded calls from members of the public asking whether they can view the eclipse from the airport themselves or simply come out to view all the planes landing.
“As people have heard about the number of airplanes I’ve also had people ask, ‘Can I just come out to watch the eclipse and the airplanes?’” he said. “And it’s like, of course!”