January 9, 2014

December ice storm cost DFW Airport $2 million

The ice storm caused 2,100 flights to be canceled and stranded 9,500 passengers at DFW Airport.

The ice storm that blanketed North Texas in early December cost Dallas/Fort Worth Airport about $2 million, officials said Thursday, as bills from the four-day weather event continue to pile up.

Over 2,100 flights were canceled and 9,500 passengers stayed overnight at the terminals on cots during the ice storm, which started Dec. 6. The airport obtained 450 hotel rooms at discount rates for passengers and provided more than 6,700 cups of coffee, bottles of water and snacks.

“We did pretty well,” said Jim Crites, DFW’s executive vice president for operations, reporting to the airport board. “It was challenging to keep these runways open.”

DFW Chief Executive Sean Donohue said he has asked the airport staff to find ways to recoup the $2 million from other parts of the budget without seeking additional funding from the board.

Across Tarrant County, state, county and city employees are working to identify potential federal funds to offset uninsured expenses during the storm, said Tonya Hunter, Tarrant County’s emergency management coordinator.

The county is working with its 41 municipalities to identify damage and injuries and emergency money spent during the storm, Hunter said. County officials are also pulling information from hospitals, colleges, utilities, airlines and other organizations eligible for help under Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines.

The state is working to calculate the total cost of uninsured damage as well, Hunter said. To receive federal relief, the state will need to have spent $34 million as a result of the ice storm, and Tarrant County will need to have spent $6.4 million. The thresholds vary by county and depend on population, Hunter said.

Fort Worth spent about $948,000 on personnel costs, materials and damage, said Juan Ortiz, the city’s emergency management coordinator.

Arlington spent $200,000 to $250,000, Fire Chief Don Crowson said.

Tarrant County spent $145,000, Hunter said, and no county roads were damaged.

This week, local agencies are meeting with the Texas Division of Emergency Management and FEMA to outline their costs and provide supporting documentation.

After that, Gov. Rick Perry could request help from the president.

Reallocating airport resources

During the first two days of the storm, Dec. 6-7, DFW Airport had one or two runways operational. On Dec. 8, it had four. And by Dec. 9, six of its seven runways were cleared.

Since American Airlines had drawn down its schedule dramatically during the storm, the airport did not need to focus on keeping as many runways open. In the future, resources can be allocated to other areas of the airport if the staff knows the airlines need only two runways to accommodate their schedules, Donohue said.

Despite the ice, Crites told the board, the airlines reported no tarmac delays over three hours. Airlines face stiff government fines when flights have long tarmac delays.

However, airlines have spent more days de-icing aircraft than usual this winter, Crites said. The airport plans for de-icing between Nov. 1 and March 31 each year.

By this time last year, airlines had spent only 15 to 20 days using de-icing fluid. This winter, airlines have used de-icer on 50 days, with three months left in the usual winter season. Crites told the board that the airport might have two to four more days this winter when it must deal with a severe ice storm or snowstorm.

Donohue also told the board that he met with Robert Isom, the new chief operating officer at American Airlines, a week after the storm to “compare notes” on the operations during the ice event.

“The next time there is a big storm, we are going to make sure the airport and the airlines are in lock step in the preplanning stage,” Donohue said.

Donohue said the airport is talking with American about building a de-icing fluid collection tank near Terminal D that would enable airlines to de-ice planes on the Terminal D ramp instead of only on the de-icing pads.

With added de-icing capacity, Donohue said, more aircraft could be ready to go during severe weather.

Separately, the airport said it served 9.9 million passengers in November, a 1.8 percent increase over the same month last year. The airport’s passenger traffic was boosted by an increase in flights to South Korea, Mexico and Europe as the number of international passengers grew 5.2 percent in November.

However, American carried 2 percent fewer passengers during the month as the airline canceled over 500 flights because of wintry weather at the beginning of the Thanksgiving travel week.

Staff writer Monica Nagy contributed to this report.

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