GA Airports Weather the Storm: A First Hand Account of the Damage

One GA airport manager's first-hand account of the effects of hurricane Irene in the Northeastern United States.

Irene Big

Irene Big

Darren Large, manager of facilities and projects at Morristown Municipal Airport, was on hand at the popular GA airport as hurricane Irene swiped through the Northeast this past weekend. Here's his first-hand account of how MMU weathered the storm.

On Friday/Saturday leading up to the storm, all tenants were notified of potential wind/flooding hazards on the airport. Pilots in our west tie down were told to secure aircraft with sturdy rope or double rope existing ties. Airport Operations personnel checked all aircraft stored outside on Saturday to insure proper tie downs. The facilities department cleaned out all drains leading up to the storm and prepared barricades and trucks for a response immediately following the storm. While most Port Authority airports closed at 12:00pm on Saturday, MMU stayed open to assist aircraft coming into NYC and allow for the evacuation of smaller based aircraft.

At 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, I was notified that significant flooding had occurred on the field. At that time we NOTAM closed the facility. By 5:30 a.m. I was at the airport to assess the flooding and damage. The flooding was pretty bad, but not as bad as it was when Floyd came through. (And not as bad as it would get later that day!) The main FBO, Signature Flight Support, had lost the majority of their ramp to flooding and several taxiways were impassable. As the rain tapered off, we met with Signature Representatives to discuss re-opening the facility and handling military/police traffic to assist in rescue efforts. In the hours following the storm, the water rose significantly on the field. We lost several of the taxiways that had been clear to flooding. At 1330 local we opened the facility to police/military aircraft. As the day progressed, we opened the airport to GA aircraft with prior permission only due to the limited ramp space and personnel to handle traffic. As we came toward night, we had to look at closing the facility because our airfield lighting was flooded. At this point the Signature Flight Support ramp had drained enough that helicopters could land on the pavement. The NJ state police requested the airport be left open so they could fuel and conduct rescue operations from the field. Signature flight Support provided a fuel truck on stand by and conducted quick turn-arounds for the helicopters. Their efforts helped the State Police execute a rescue of two individuals from a swollen river near the facility. Without that quick turn-around, the individuals would have died.

The following morning DM AIRPORTS, LTD (my company) personnel, Signature Flight Support Personnel, and FTC FBO our SASO, personnel met to discuss opening the field to GA traffic. The FTC FBO did not have flooding on their ramp and were able to accommodate extra aircraft. We still had several large pavement areas that were flooded out, but felt we could get GA flowing into the NYC area again. Because of personnel issues related to flooded roads and the limited pavement available, we decided to conduct prior permission only operations. Aircraft wishing to come into the facility had to contact the operations department, they would then be given a time slot and were either handled on the ground by the FTC or Signature. The tower coordinated with Tracon and only aircraft with approved tail numbers were allowed into the field. Many of our west tie down tenants who had evacuated also flew back and were allowed to land at the facility because they did not require services. Throughout the day, we cleaned up the pavement as the waters receded and handled all GA aircraft that wished to come in. Last night we did shut down at 19:30 due to the flooded lights. This morning we came in and all lights/pavement were clear. We tested the lights, everything came on and we were 100% by 6:30.