Watch a "Conga Line" of Aircraft Evacuate Florida Ahead of Hurricane Irma
We've already seen the damage Hurricane Irma can do to airports. Saint Martin's iconic AvGeek beach has been washed away and the SXM airport was left with substantial damage. Now, imagine those incredibly destructive winds sweeping through an airport stocked with light aircraft that normally take off at the speed of mere tropical storm force winds.
Well, that's the situation that Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach faced as Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida. So, just like the major airlines did, the school evacuated all of its aircraft from the area.
However, unlike the airlines, Embry-Riddle evacuated all of its planes at once. This created a mesmerizing "conga line" on FlightRadar24's flight-tracking map on Saturday morning:
If you want to see a slower version, FlightRadar24 provides this link where you can replay the "conga line" at anywhere from 12x to 120x speed. You'll need to set a "RDDL" callsign filter if you want to hide other traffic.
While it may look like hundreds of planes taking to the skies to flee Hurricane Irma, it turns out to be only 63 aircraft, with 42 ending up at Auburn University Regional Airport. On Embry-Riddle Daytona Beach Campus' Facebook page, they explained that the 63 aircraft were moved by "63 Certified Flight Instructors and one mechanic" to Birmingham's Atlantic Aviation and Auburn University. Embry-Riddle noted that it was "grateful for the immediate offers to help and generously host not only our fleet, but safe location for our pilots and mechanic!"
Steve Swartz, a flight instructor for Auburn University’s flight school, boldly predicted that “for a brief moment in time, Auburn’s going to be the busiest airport in the Southeast." However, just 42 arrivals over four hours likely didn't stand a chance against nearby Atlanta's Hartsfield–Jackson Airport (ATL), even if the arrivals were between 3:30am and 7:30am.
This isn't the first time that Embry-Riddle has evacuated its planes from its Daytona Beach campus, having done so multiple times since its fleet was damaged by Hurricane Charlie in 2004. Just last year, the aeronautics university evacuated its aircraft ahead of Hurricane Matthew.
And, this will likely not be the last time the university has to move its aircraft out of harm's way; it may even have to do so again before Hurricane Irma dissipates. As the massive hurricane's track has shifted westward, Embry-Riddle might move its planes from Birmingham and Auburn even further northward, according to Swartz.