Small town Oxford airport performs big city airport feats during college football season

Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 5:29 PM CST
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OXFORD, Miss. (WMC) - With College GameDay returning to Oxford and Ole Miss after seven years, thousands of Rebel fans are expected to be in the Grove for tailgating before the matchup against Texas A&M.

Many will be making that trip on the road, but some will be arriving from the skies and will land at the University Oxford Airport.

It’s like any other small-town municipal airport, but come game day, the runway becomes one of the busiest in the region, even receiving the temporary title from flyers and Rebel fans as the “Oxford International Airport.”

“Any other day of the week you come into Oxford, it’s quiet,” said Clark Carpenter, a corporate pilot for 18 years. “It’s a totally different event around game day.”

Carpenter has flown fans to multiple college town airports like Oxford.

When we talked to him Friday morning, the calm before the storm for game day weekend at the airport, he laid out his method for arrival during the busy weekend.

“If you get here at this time [on Friday morning] and you’re staying for the game tomorrow, it’s a cakewalk,” Carpenter said. “If you wait it out and come later in the day, you’re definitely going to see some holding involved, waiting your turn to get in. Of course, once you get to a certain point, the ramp is full.”

“It’s a controlled chaos,” said airport manager Mac McManus.

McManus has been the airport’s manager for 17 years and has seen some big events come to Oxford. He mentions the 2008 presidential debate as one of those events, but the rest are mostly football games.

“LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M, all of those are always huge,” McManus said.

Those weekends fill up the ramp and hangers, as Carpenter pointed out. Planes will even be parked on the grass for a small fee of $50.

McManus and the airport even call in air traffic control operators to man the tower and guide the planes in.

“We don’t have a control tower every day of the week, but for the special event like game day, it’s all about safety and coordination of the flights,” the airport manager said.

Capacity ranges from 70 to 150 planes, according to McManus, but a full airport doesn’t mean planes stop coming.

McManus said 350 have landed for a weekend before, but those additional 200 don’t stay.

“It turns to drop and go,” Carpenter said. “You drop your passengers off, but you’ve got to move the airplane.”

“A lot of airports that are just around the area, if they’ve got a long enough runway, they like it when we have game day because they get our overflow,” said McManus. “It benefits more than just the Oxford area.”

McManus gives all the credit to his staff.

It’s a lean one where everyone pitches in, performing duties ranging from cleaning, unloading luggage and cutting the grass along the runway, but they’ve got their game day weekend process down to a science, making everyone who flies in feel like a welcome guest.

“We like for everybody to feel welcome,” said McManus. “They fly in here, and as soon as they step off the plane, it’s ‘welcome to Ole Miss. Welcome to Oxford. Enjoy your stay.’”

College GameDay starts Saturday at 8 a.m. and kickoff for Ole Miss vs. Texas A&M is at 6 p.m.

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