Bad weather and runway construction cause flight delays
By Peter Loewi
Low visibility, strong south winds and construction on the 10-28 runway, the main runway, caused flight delays, diversions and cancellations in and out of Nome Airport last week.
The Department of Transportation’s Northern Region, Western District Superintendent Calvin Schaeffer explained that the impacts have been primarily because the runway they’re working on is the precision instrument landing system approach. This means that aircraft must fly with higher minimums. The 10-28 runway is closed for construction until August 1.
Tim Thompson, spokesperson for Alaska Airlines explained that the airline will use the north-south runway, or 03-21 runway, guided by their normal minimum ceiling height of around 250 feet. “Starting on July 31, we will be using half the width of runway 10/28. This will continue through August 24,” he said.
He also explained Alaska Airlines’ preference for the instrument landing system approach. “The ILS, which is the approach that we usually prefer to use, and that had the lowest minimums under normal field conditions at 200 feet, is presently out of service due to the construction. It is scheduled to be out of service until August 28. With half runway ops, we have self-imposed minimums of 500 feet for 10 and 525 for runway 28. We also have increased our visibility requirement to 1.5 miles. This is scheduled to continue through August 24.”
Justin Polayes, Station Manager for Ryan Air, explained that it is truly a safety factor. Due to the construction, he said, they’re being “hypervigilant.” Polayes, who is also the contract agent for Everts and Northern Air Cargo, said that last week they also had to worry about tailwind limits. Since the start of the construction, they’ve only had a couple of flights cancelled, even though changes might make it look like more. With a limited number of pilots and storage space, an air cargo company might divert a plane to Kotzebue or Unalakleet to keep things moving.
Further stressing people are the downstream affects that delays cause, such as at the mail not being delivered to the post office. Polayes explained that they weren’t able to get mail to Nome for four days. In the summer, when they get between 6,000 and 7,500 pounds of mail a day, a four-day delay means they dropped off close to 30,000 pounds at once, twice the amount delivered on Christmas. That means increased pressure on the USPS staff to sort and process the mail. As priority mail is the most important client, other orders get bumped back.
Thompson said in an email to the Nugget that “We had two cancels yesterday [Sunday, June 26.] Alaska Airlines flight 151 was diverted to Kotzebue due to weather. The plan was to “gas and go” but the forecast did not show improvement, so the Nome portion of the flight was canceled and returned to Anchorage. Alaska Airlines flight 153 had a mechanical issue and diverted to Kotzebue, the flight to Nome was eventually canceled, and 153 returned to Anchorage. The rest of our passenger and freighter flights over the past week have made it to Nome.”
In addition to passenger and freight flights, several public meetings were impacted by the cancellations, as well. Governor Mike Dunleavy was planning on visiting Nome on Monday and the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office had their Monday meeting delayed. The impacts were mostly logistical, said AMCO director Joan Wilson, but noted one major impact: Alaska State Senator Peter Micciche was planning to attend the meetings in person, but was forced to watch online, instead.
Weather also delayed work on the Bob Blodgett Nome-Teller Highway, which is at the top of the DOT’s priorities. Schaeffer said they were supposed to get started this week on miles 15-26 of the Teller Road, but because of the weather setbacks, they couldn’t get moving. Drier weather is needed for the trucks to haul material. Gravel roads can’t be graded when it’s raining, Schaeffer explained, as it takes the cap off of the road, turning it into “mud and soup.”
“When it rains all summer, we have a hard time,” he said, “but rain is good for the berries.”