Minot airport officials want changes in ground-handling operations to avoid another de-icing snafu like the one that grounded planes last weekend.
A spokesman for the company that handles de-icing at Minot International Airport reports that changes are on the way, and that could be good news for some other North Dakota airports as well.
Problems occurred over the Veterans Day weekend when the Delta-owned ground-handling company, DGS, had both its primary de-icing truck and backup truck break down, leaving airlines without a way to de-ice and many out-going passengers stranded. Planes couldn't get in the air Saturday and Sunday, and some flights didn't resume until Monday afternoon.
Jim Hatlelid, chairman of the Minot City Council's Airport Committee, said he plans to ask the manager of DGS to address the committee Nov. 26 to discuss the breakdown and explain how future problems will be prevented.
"They have to understand what kind of name this gives the Minot airport," he said. "We have to see that the passengers are taken care of."
Russell Cason, spokesman for Delta in Altanta, said the company has approved stationing a third de-icing truck in Minot that can be transported as needed to any North Dakota airport served by Delta. That extra backup offers additional security, although Cason called last weekend's situation rare.
"We just had the very unusual circumstance where both of the trucks were out of commission at the same time as a major storm moved in," he said.
Daryl Rench of Kennesaw, Ga., who attempted to fly out of the airport Saturday after hunting in North Dakota, said he spent more than six hours on a Delta jet before learning that his flight would not be leaving.
In keeping with federal limits on on-plane hold times, the pilot taxied to the terminal after three hours to offer passengers the opportunity to exit the plane. Rench said passengers were led to believe the delay would be short so most either did not leave or left to visit the snack bar and then returned. Eventually, the pilot announced the flight was canceled.
"It was just very frustrating, sitting in the plane six to seven hours and then when we go into the wait area, they don't tell us what to do," he said, noting that upset passengers were crying and yelling as they congregated in the terminal.
Delta representatives who arrived paid for overnight lodging while transferring passengers to Sunday flights, which also ended up canceled. Rench said he rented a car and drove to Bismarck to board a flight Sunday evening.
Airport director Andrew Solsvig said DGS had one of its two de-icing trucks experience mechanical problems just days before the weekend storm. That left one truck available to serve the airport's four commercial airlines.
When the storm required DGS to use its lone truck, that equipment also broke down. DGS brought in mechanics from Salt Lake City, but due to lack of parts and other reasons, they were unable to immediately get a truck working.
"They made the decision to bring up a truck from Minneapolis," Solsvig said. That truck arrived Monday morning and by 3 p.m., four hold-over flights again were airborne.
Minot Aero Center, the airport's fixed-base operator, has a tow-behind de-icing unit. However, the unit is capable of only providing a type of de-icer that removes ice since that is adequate for its general aviation customers. Commercial planes require both ice removal and a second type of de-icer that prevents ice buildup.