FAA investigating safety of Hopkins runways during winter
19 Action News sources close to an
believe runways are being understaffed, which is putting planes and passengers at risk, especially when it snows. However, airport officials say that's not true.
"It's never been the case, where snow couldn't be cleared quick enough," said Hopkins Airport Commissioner Fred Szabo.
After our investigative reporter Scott Taylor did some digging, he discovered Hopkins is understaffing its runways during the winter months, according to an FAA agreement.
The FAA and Hopkins Airport Director Ricky Smith entered into a Snow Ice Control Plan for Hopkins, which provides the number of field maintenance employees required to be on duty removing snow and ice on runways. For instance, the plan calls for 26 field maintenance employees under a yellow snowfall code of greater than 1 to 4 inches.
"There wasn't an instance where we didn't have enough people to keep the runway safe," said Szabo.
However, on Jan. 5, 2015 under a yellow snowfall code, the airport only had 15 workers, not the FAA required 26.
"We fell underneath that number, but we did have sufficient staff," said Szabo.
On Jan. 6, 2015, there was another yellow code, yet only 15 workers.
So is the Snow Ice Control Plan a regulation or a guideline?
"No, it's one that we have to follow and we do," said Szabo.
Yet Hopkins didn't follow it again on Jan. 21, using only 17 workers on the runways.
Since 2014, Hopkins officials say there have been 10 diversions of planes from the airport. 19 Action News has learned some runways were actually shut down due to ice and snow. Planes full of passengers had to be diverted.
On Feb. 25, 2014, one United Airlines jet was diverted due to heavy snow on the runways. Both runways closed for 16 minutes.
On Jan. 21, 2015, one ExpressJet was diverted due to low visibility and snow removal. That's the same date when the runways were only staffed by 15 workers, not the FAA required 26.
On March 1, 2015, both runways closed for 6 minutes. One Air Wisconsin jet was diverted during heavy ice conditions.
A letter from April 2014 from the FAA to Airport Director Ricky Smith discusses three open federal investigations at the airport, including the systemic lapses with the airport's execution of their Snow Ice Control Plan. The FAA says one investigation is still open, concerning staffing of the runways, along with the airport's Snow Ice Control Plan.
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