CHARLESTON, SC (WCBD) — Boeing officials want to meet with airport leaders to develop a plan for any future winter storms. This comes after Charleston International Airport runways were shut down for nearly 4 days.
A Task Force has been formed with the United States Air Force to meet with other aviation officials.
Count On 2 Investigators received emails and other documents through the Freedom of Information Act that shed light on why the runways were shut down for that amount of time.
An agreement between the Charleston County Aviation Authority and the United States Air Force shows the Air Force owns, operates and maintains the two runways the civil aircraft use.
An email exchange between airport officials and Boeing officials relays information based on assessments from Air Force crews during the winter storm.
An email at 12:07 p.m. on Wednesday, January 3, from Renee Melvin, Supervisor of Operations with Charleston International Airport, stated that “both RWY’s are closed due to inclement weather until further notice.”
The next email from Roger Schwartz with CHS is dated Thursday, January 4, at 9:37 a.m. It states that the USAF Field Manager advised that “his team conducted a runway assessment and both runways are covered with ice and snow. The runways are officially closed at this time until further notice.” The email goes on to say that the field manager does not believe that enough of the winter matter will melt to allow the runways to open the following day.
A follow-up email from Schwartz is sent at 5:00 p.m., explaining that as of 3:00 p.m., USAF officials advised the runways were still coated with ice and snow and the runways should remain closed.
Friday morning, January 5, another email is sent giving a status update. The email explains USAF conducted another assessment, and the runways were still covered with ice and snow. It explains the “team will continue to inspect and assess the runways every 2 hours.”
At 10:37 a.m., an email from Schwartz is sent to the USAF Deputy Air Field Manager. It provides the website of a snow removal company used by Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.
An email from Melvin at 2:44 p.m. explains USAF had contractors on site to provide snow removal on one of the runways.
There was also an email allowing Boeing to assist with snow removal.
On Saturday, January 6, one runway opened. Sunday afternoon, January 7, both runways were operational.
Monday, January 8, a Boeing employee sent an email to Hernan E. Pena, Jr., Deputy Director of the Charleston County Aviation Authority, and Sen. Paul Campbell, Director of CCAA. It said, in part, “Senator Campbell and I briefly discussed that we would like to do a meeting in the coming weeks with all of us and the Air Force to figure out a plan for any future weather issues.”
Count on 2 Investigators reached out to Joint Base Charleston for a statement regarding the winter weather response. A representative responded with this statement:
“Joint Base Charleston has partnered with the Charleston County Aviation Authority to create a Task Force charged with reviewing lessons learned and the emergency response plan for the runways and taxiways shared by the base and Charleston International Airport concerning potential weather-related events.
The Task Force will convene next week on the base and provide recommendations to the Joint Base Commander and Aviation Authority CEO to enhance established emergency response plans.
After the recent extreme weather, both agencies realized the need to establish the Task Force charged with reviewing current procedures in an effort to incorporate any lessons learned to emergency plans for future weather-related events.
Joint Base Charleston owns and maintains the runways that are shared between the base, the Aviation Authority and Boeing. Existing agreements ensure that the Air Force maintains the airfield in order to ensure military readiness. The Task Force will identify opportunities to alleviate impacts to civil aircraft operations during inclement weather.
Continued collaboration between Joint Base Charleston and the Aviation Authority will provide better response procedures to future weather incidents. As always, we thank the Charleston community for their support, patience and understanding following this historic winter storm.”
“We have contingency plans for security, for the police, for hurricanes, for tornadoes, but nobody really expects 8 inches of snow to come into Charleston,” said Senator Paul Campbell, Executive Director of the Charleston County Aviation Authority.
Campbell says he looks forward to the Task Force meeting so all parties can jointly come up with a new winter weather plan.
He says it likely won’t be too costly.
“I don’t think the people of Charleston would appreciate us going out and spending a quarter of million dollars for equipment we use every 30 years because that goes into the rent that the airlines pay and that affects the fares,” said Campbell. He suggested other options, such as chemicals or borrowing equipment.
He plans to discuss those options during the meeting. Officials say they plan to meet this week and will release more details after a plan is confirmed.