A series of events, most of them outside of airline control, contributed to the lengthy tarmac delays at Bradley International Airport near Hartford, Conn., on Oct. 29, Administrator Randy Babbitt says.
But that does not mean that the U.S. Transportation Department (), which says it is investigating delays involving and potentially other carriers, is ruling out hefty fines against any carriers that were involved.
Under DOT rules, airlines face fines as high as $27,500 per passenger per incident for violations of its tarmac delay rule, which requires carriers to provide passengers on domestic flights on-board food and water after two hours stuck on the ground, the option to get off the plane after three and operable lavatories for the duration. The DOT recently levied its first fine under the tarmac delay rule that took effect in late April 2010, hittingwith a $900,000 penalty, or about $1,480 per affected passenger.
In an interview after the FAA and DOT-hosted Flight Diversion Planning Forum at which Babbitt explained the sequence of events that day, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said only that the investigation continues. One source at the forum said it could be months before a DOT decision is made. LaHood also said the American Eagle penalty should not be viewed as a precedent for the level of fine the DOT will assess for other violations, describing each incident as an individual case with individual negotiations on the penalty, if any.
In an interview after the FAA and DOT-hosted Flight Diversion Planning Forum at which Babbitt explained the sequence of events that day, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said only that the investigation continues. One source at the forum said it could be months before a DOT decision is made.
In his recounting of the Oct. 29 problems, Babbitt cited a “confluence of bad events” that multiplied the impact of the snowstorm.
The list starts at New York area airports, which produced most of the diverted flights during a rare late-October snowstorm in the eastern U.S.
The storm surprised weather forecasters with its intensity, started earlier than predicted and started affecting visibility earlier than expected, Babbitt said.
Scheduled maintenance on navigation equipment at New York John F.meant one of its runways could not be used in bad weather, and the snow caused a navigation equipment malfunction at the same airport. A domino-effect on airspace usage precluded the use of one runway at New York LaGuardia Airport, impacted Newark Liberty International Airport and closed Teterboro Airport.
Also, a previously scheduled week-long navigation equipment removal and replacement project for modernization at Newark took two runways out of service that would have been used as backup runways for bad-weather operations. High winds and deicing difficulties also caused problems at the area’s airports.
All of this happened at a very busy time of day for flights, including many from international destinations. In total, 134 flights diverted from New York area airports. Seven of the flights that declared fuel emergencies ended up at Bradley. Each airline made decisions independently, not aware of the facilities other carriers were selecting as their diversion airports, so 28 flights ended up at Bradley.
None of the airlines realized the full scope of what was happening at Bradley, which included power failures in the area, related communications failures at the airport, and fueling, deicing and baggage belt issues. Tugs could not even move aircraft because they could not get traction on the ice.
“This was not anybody’s fault, necessarily,” Babbitt said after the forum.