Embry-Riddle Relocates Fleet Ahead of Irma

School is experienced at mass aircraft moves.

embry riddle irma
Embry-Riddle had a big job to do in moving all of its aircraft ahead of Irma's landfall in Florida.Embry Riddle

As Hurricane Irma approached Florida, college campuses all over the state began shutting down in preparation for what was predicted to be the most powerful storm ever to strike the U.S. mainland. Embry-Riddle’s campus shut down on Tuesday, September 5, to offer students and faculty plenty of time to make their escape. But what to do with the school’s fleet of 62 aircraft?

Ken Byrnes, ERAU's assistant dean of the College of Aviation, told Flying that while working closely with the university's own meteorologists to keep an eye on the approaching storm, the department looked back to last year's evacuation ahead of Hurricane Matthew for logistical guidance. "We try to hangar aircraft at Daytona during a tropical storm, but when it's a hurricane, we send the aircraft elsewhere." Again, this year, ERAU sent much of the fleet to Auburn University's home airport in Alabama, with a few others going to Birmingham. Byrnes said the only reason they didn't send all the aircraft to Auburn was a shortage of hotel rooms for the crews.

Then there was the ATC hurdle to consider. Florida’s not an easy state to evacuate since there’s pretty much only one way in and one way out. If the ERAU team waited too long to try and send the fleet out, they’d run headlong into all the other aircraft trying to leave the state as well. After careful coordination with ATC, the exodus began in the early hours of Friday, September 8. “We coordinated the move with Daytona tower and Jacksonville and Atlanta centers so there’d be enough personnel on the midnight shift to handle us,” Byrnes said. With roughly three to five minutes of separation between flights, ERAU’s fleet left Daytona piloted by school CFIs headed northwest to safety.

Within six hours of the first departure, the school's fleet of 44 Cessna 172s, nine Diamond 42s, eight Piper Arrows and a single Beechcraft Baron were safely tied down, 40 at Auburn University's home airport and 22 others in Birmingham where they remained until the storm had passed the following Tuesday. The school created a video detailing the week when nature got in the way of the school's flight training operation.