Thursday, December 17, 2015

Safety versus departure time during winter weather

SIOUX FALLS - A long-delayed flight at Sioux Falls Regional Airport has many wondering why it took so long.

Multiple attempts to deice a plane kept a Delta flight to Atlanta grounded for much of the day.

Some passengers said they spent eight to nine hours on that plane.

Time is money for the airlines and passengers.

How much travelers are willing to pay to fly out of Sioux Falls, may be one factor in preventing delays like this one.

It was supposed to take off just after 6:00 a.m.

An unfortunate series of events from mechanical problems, to a couple trips back to the gate kept the plane frozen in time for about eight hours.

The deicing process usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes, but there's only one deicing machine to get this plane safely in the air.

Retired pilot Troy Wheeler said "if you go to the larger airports in snow country, they are really set up with a conga line, so it really is like a car wash. You pull into a designated area, there are many deicing trucks, there's a lot of support."

"In a small town like Sioux Falls, smaller, it's not a small town anymore, we're always balancing the cost that you pay to fly in and out of Sioux Falls. Every airline wants to be competitive, with the convenience of having an instant deice, so this is a balance, just as it is when we clear streets or do many other things in life," Wheeler said.

One airport contractor said they had a inch of ice covered with snow wednesday, and that it just took longer to deice some planes.

A few pilots today who say they try to give passengers an update from the cockpit about every fifteen minutes, just to let them know they're not forgotten.

The pilots KSFY News spoke with said they want to get us there safely, more important than getting to a destination on time.

Delta flight 2167 spent much of the day Wednesday getting deiced. One thing everyone can count on is that Mother Nature is unpredictable.

"There's snow days, there's thunderstorm days, a lot of the areas of the world i flew in, there's typhoons," Wheeler said.

It's why retired pilot Wheeler said expect the unexpected.

"This is a career, it's not a one day job. We're going to wait until things are squared away and safe before we go, we'd like to get everybody on time, but that's not possible," Wheeler said.

KSFY News caught up with one traveler upon the flight's arrival in Atlanta, Wednesday. He spoke of a series of unfortunate events which snow balled from mechanical problems, to returning to the gate to let some passengers off.

Delta flight 2167 passenger Lance Park said "so after we got done through the deicing, back to the gate, it took so long, we had to go back out to the de-icing again, so the whole ordeal to finally get out, it was about eight, nine hours that we sat."

"Sometimes you can go through the line, and after you're deiced, if precipitation is still falling, the clock is running, and you only have so much time to take off, otherwise you have to go through the line again," Wheeler said.

"The frustrating thing for the passengers is, once they come to the airport and sit down in the airplane, they feel like they've lost a lot of control, and they have. From the pilots standpoint, we want to be sensitive to that, although our main concern is, is it safe," Wheeler added.

It begs the question if travelers warm up to one solution with more machines to deice planes faster.

"It's expensive, so the more trucks you have, the more prepared you are for a deicing event in a smaller station like Sioux Falls, the more expensive the tickets out of Sioux Falls are going to be," Wheeler said.

Wheeler said the one piece of good news is that pilots are not pressured to take off.

In fact he said, some airlines may prefer just to cancel the flights in advance in times of bad weather.

The Sioux Falls Regional Airport manager tells us that it's up to the airlines to provide their own deicing equipment.

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