Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Airport closed most of last 6 days

Plane wings can?t clear dunes of stored snow

Express Staff Writer

As they were weeks ago, above, planes at Friedman Memorial Airport were grounded this week because of snow. Photo by David N. Seelig

The series of snowstorms that hit south-central Idaho last week and over the weekend has forced Friedman Memorial Airport to shut down operations for most of the past six days.

Although Airport Manager Rick Baird said Tuesday that the field was to be reopened during the afternoon, he said it could be closed again if the rate of snowfall grew faster than the ability of snowplow crews to clear the runway and taxiway and remove virtual dunes of snow from storage areas on the airport that prevent movement of aircraft.

Baird said the major problem is that snow stored between the taxiway and runway had reached a height of at least 25 feet, which prevented long-winged aircraft of Horizon Air and SkyWest Airlines, plus corporate jets, from taxiing.

He said the snow dunes had also buried the airport's 380 runway and taxiway lights and 70 signs, which are essential for safe movement of aircraft.

Friedman was first closed Thursday, then reopened Friday and Saturday, but closed again Sunday, Baird said. It has been closed since, except for an hour and a half on Monday to allow nine departures before snowfall resumed.

No airliners were stuck at the field.

"They (airlines) watch the weather pretty closely" and plan accordingly, he said.

Though the airport's own crews have worked around the clock, Baird said he has also contracted with Burks and S. Erwin excavation companies to move snow in large trucks to storage areas off the airport or reposition it on the field. Baird estimated two-thirds of the snow is being slowly taken off the airport.

Baird compared the current storm's impact with a storm in the early 1990s, which he described as a "doozy." However, he said aircraft are now larger and require more operating and parking room.

Fortuitously, Friedman recently took delivery of a huge new snow blower. An older, smaller blower still is being operated, however.

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