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"DIA defends snow removal operation"


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

DIA defends operation
Spokesman doesn't see any reason to alter procedures
As other passengers file through the security line snaking around Denver International Airport on Friday, a woman, right, sleeps on the floor. Efforts to wake the woman were not immediately successful, a sign of the extreme exhaustion many terminal-bound passengers experienced.
By Lou Kilzer
Airport officials didn't promise any changes Tuesday despite the avalanche of criticism about the 45- hour closure of Denver International Airport that snarled holiday traffic across the nation.

Even a suggestion by their boss, Mayor John Hickenlooper, that some of the equipment that cleared both lanes of Peña Boulevard might be diverted to runways was dismissed.

"I don't know why we would do anything differently," DIA spokesman Chuck Cannon said when asked about plans to handle another major storm bearing down on the Front Range that might hit Thursday.

"People are not knee-jerk. We're not going to say, 'Oh, my God, you know, this happened, so we got to change things,' " said Cannon, adding that a debriefing on how DIA reacted to last week's blizzard is scheduled this afternoon.

Hickenlooper wondered aloud at a news conference earlier in the day why if lanes in both directions on Peña Boulevard were opened Thursday, more progress had not been made clearing the runways.

"Would you like me to explain that to you since the mayor didn't bother to call and ask us?" Cannon said when asked about Hickenlooper's observation.

"You cannot use land-side equipment which we use on Peña Boulevard on the airfield. It's different equipment," he said. The chemicals on the two types of trucks are different and can't be mixed, he noted.

Cannon also shot down Hickenlooper's idea of enlisting garbage trucks to plow snow.

If the plan was to put garbage trucks on the airfield - something the mayor was not specific about - then it didn't fly with Cannon.

"First of all," Cannon said, "those people have to be trained for airfield driving."

Cannon went on to insist that DIA "can operate better in bad weather than any airport in the country."

Nonsense, said Mike Boyd, a top national aviation consultant.

"Something is wrong out there," Boyd said.

"I'm sorry, but something is wrong."

Boyd said it's clear that DIA, for whatever reason, is "not able to handle bad weather."

The idea that DIA was mostly closed for a day after the snow stopped "is not flying in the airport industry," according to Boyd.

Whether the problem is a lack, or the wrong type, of equipment at DIA, Boyd said the "message is to stay away from Denver in bad weather."

Cannon fired back that DIA has "plenty of equipment. We have more equipment than we have operators."

Hickenlooper held a news conference in southwest Denver with a snowplow rumbling in the background to explain why Mother Nature got the upper hand last week.

Hickenlooper said that battling 2 feet of snow in a day would be a challenge for anybody, but he was groping for ways to make it less painful.

That most likely would cost money, the mayor said, for more plows and crews.

And no matter what the airport officials might think, Hickenlooper was emphatic: "We will put more focus on keeping the runways open."

Public Works Manager Bill Vidal offered an excuse at the news conference that Hickenlooper didn't bring up. The city has faced budget deficits since Hickenlooper took office, Vidal said.

Still, Vidal and the airport officials said their crews worked Herculean shifts, marshaling before the blizzard hit and working long overtime hours.

Although Hickenlooper said he "wasn't satisfied" with the situation at DIA, Cannon rattled off a list of problems airport crews encountered.

"Getting a runway open does not mean you can open the airport. You have to get the associated taxiways open. You have to get the de-icing pads open; you have to get the ramp areas open," Cannon said.

"You had to get the ramp areas open so that flight crews and baggage handlers and ticket agents and passengers can get to the airport. It's a very large and complex system," he added.

Still, saying DIA is a big airport is not an excuse, Boyd said.

Although DIA officials talked about 7-foot drifts on the runways, Boyd said 7-foot drifts on Pena Boulevard were plowed.

"I saw it," he said.

As for the inevitability of such long closures, Boyd said other cities didn't seem to have the problems DIA encountered.

"Tell that to Bangor, Maine," he said.

DIA holiday blizzard facts

Snow started about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday and grew more intense and heavy until about 2:30 p.m.

Snow lightened somewhat before re-intensifying at 5 p.m.

Snow varied in amounts throughout but was accompanied by gusty winds and quarter-mile visibility.

Snow ended between 1 and 2 p.m. Thursday.

Eighty-six crew members per 12-hour shift worked the airfield, expending 1,032-man hours.

They had worked six shifts by the end of Friday and were assisted by 96 contractors per 12-hour shift.

One runway was open Thursday night, but the airport remained closed.

How numbers stack up

17,352 Total work-hours

1,261 The number of lane miles of runways, taxiways, ramps, de-icing pads and airport roadways crews were clearing. A lane mile is equivalent to a lane 12 feet wide and one mile long.

4.4 million

Total cubic yards of snow removed

40 mph

Speed of wind gusts that accompanied the falling snow at the airport

Sources: National Weather Service Meteorologist Jim Kalina And Dia

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