FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Plunging temperatures here and around the U.S. Thursday evening set the stage for Christmas weekend’s flight woes.
As flight cancellations came through like a rolling blackout, the Fort Wayne International Airport (FWA) stayed ready to handle any flight in or out, said Scott Hinderman, executive director of airports for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority.
As of Tuesday, business was nearly back to normal.
“The airlines are still working on it. I think globally, our country still had a lot of cancellations from the East Coast today. I know there are some areas out there, the New York area, that are still not unburied because of the volume of snow they got over the weekend. So it’s still a process. It takes a while for the system to get all caught back up,” Hinderman said.
At FWA, Thursday’s temperature plunge caused a 35-minute closure of one runway to lay down enough sodium formate. Otherwise, crews came in and out of the airport as they worked in temperatures that were way below freezing when taken into consideration with the winds that were registering consistently at 50 mph.
“We had a significant weather event come through the United States and it impacted aviation, system wide, not just Fort Wayne,” Hinderman said Tuesday during an interview at the airport. “Our biggest challenge, you know we were hitting that rain last Thursday and then the temperatures dropped very quickly and then even more quickly, so that transitioned from rain to freezing rain/snow. (That) was our challenge.
“During that period of time, we lost our airfield. We closed it for about 35 minutes to where we could put enough sodium formate down and get the runway braking action satisfactory to land aircraft on our runway. Then we were open and we maintained being open throughout the entire weekend,” Hinderman added.
During the coldest temperatures, Hinderman said equipment can malfunction more often.
“Our equipment, our diesel engines had the right fuel in them, so we didn’t have any gelling problems,” he said. “It (weather) does have an impact where there’s a gate that breaks or our water breaks in our buildings or facilities elsewhere to where it takes some of our resources away from the runways.”
The airfield is always the priority.
“You’ve got to get that runway open and make sure aircraft are available until take off or to land and then we fix those other things as they come as we can to get away from the runway,” Hinderman added.
The airport’s popular and free welcome cookies never got stale, chilling temps or not, and FWA’s sturdy staff never gave up, Hinderman said.
“Cookies were always there,” Hinderman said. “That kind of wind chill. It’s not airport staff. It’s all staff. You can only last outside so long. You have to come in and get warm. The airline staff. They’re out working on that ramp. They can only last so long before they are required to come in and get that body temperature back up. You just have to have more people to do all that. And then our equipment has heaters inside them, but it’s still cold.
“I don’t think anybody loves working in 35 below wind chills.”