ABIA Rebuilds After Flood

Flights continue to be delayed

As ABIA's control tower undergoes flood-damage repairs, the airport uses a temporary control tower, towed in from Kansas. (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

Please, be patient: That's the simple request from the Federal Aviation Admini­stration as engineers try to get the flood-damaged air traffic control facilities at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport repaired.

Ask a landscaper or a hydrologist, and they'll all tell you the same thing: Water goes where it wants to go. On Friday, Oct. 30, during the massive storms that drenched Central Texas, six inches of water wanted to go straight into the ground floor of ABIA's control tower. The FAA had to evacuate the tower, briefly completely closing the airfield, and now begins the damage assessment and repairs.

The bad news, according to FAA District Manager Greg Motl, is that ABIA is currently running at slightly less than 50% of capacity. It's not just Bergstrom that's affected, as ABIA's approach control center also normally manages San Marcos, Georgetown, and Austin Executive airports. With the tower offline, the Transportation Security Admin­i­stra­tion has loaned the airport a temporary emergency control center, which had to be towed down from storage in Kansas. However, because the trailer only allows clear views in one direction, the airport is currently only using one of its two runways.

Secondly, ABIA is now currently dependent on radar support provided via Houston, and so has increased the distance and time between planes for added safety. Combined, that means serious delays for potentially weeks.

Motl made it clear that the repairs will not be like flicking on a switch, as every mechanical and electrical system, from printers to elevators, has to be assessed, repaired, or even replaced. "Things are being layered back," he said. "As a system is checked out to be OK, then it will be returned to operational use." The hope is to be at 80-90% capacity by Thanksgiving, historically the busiest travel weekend of the year, and for vital systems to be fully operational within 30 days.

However, Motl said his staff will not cut corners for the calendar. "Our goal is to provide the safest, most efficient air traffic control system in the world, and there is a reason we say it in that order."

All the damage is to areas of the airfield under FAA control, meaning the FAA foots the repair bill. However, that still leaves ABIA dealing with massive delays. Airport Public Information and Marketing Manager Jim Halbrook said, "The main thing that the airport is trying to do is get the message out to the customers that the flights aren't coming and going as fast as they have in the past." The advice to everyone, whether they are flying in or out of ABIA, is to check with their airlines before setting off for their flights.

The next big question is how Bergstrom will handle passengers already in the terminal, with no word yet if stores and restaurants will extend their hours. However, there is one small mercy: Halbrook confirmed that wireless provider Boingo will provide free unlimited wifi, rather than the current 90 minutes per passenger per day.

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ABIA, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, flooding, Federal Aviation Administration

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