When, and why, does snow delay planes?
Our main priority at Glacier Park International Airport is safety for passengers, employees and other visitors. But who decides when a runway is no longer safe for takeoff and landing?
Airport closures are dictated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and are required whenever the runway braking friction drops below a standard measurement. Just like in your car, the brakes on an aircraft have to have friction to come to a safe stop.
On days like today, January 23, the braking friction measurement has been above and below the standard set by the FAA all morning- and that causes intermittent closures, as travelers have experienced today. Kalispell received 7 inches of snow overnight, and snow has continued to accumulate throughout the morning.
Usually, these closures are fairly short in duration, but may happen repeatedly during any significant snow event. GPIA plow crews work continuously to clear the runway to keep the braking friction above the standard set by the FAA. While the airfield may be open one moment, weather conditions can change quickly, resulting in additional closures.
As Montanans know, the weather here can be unpredictable, but dozens of GPIA staff members are working diligently to keep the runway areas cleared and up to safety standards in changing conditions.
In addition to extreme conditions that can cause delays, airplanes require deicing. Deicing is is a long process and the deicing process expires in a short period. Each airlines manages their own deicing process, and airlines crews work quickly to deice aircraft- but if timing doesn’t line up quite right, the aircraft might not be able to takeoff even if the airport is open.
All of these factors are part of a complex system that dictates when planes can takeoff and land safety at GPIA.
Safety is the main priority at GPIA. The GPIA team, alongside the airlines that serve GPIA, works hard to keep flights coming and going within the safety limits that are set by the FAA. Every day, dozens of GPIA staff are working hard to meet safety standards and responding to the extreme weather conditions in our beautiful state.