Lingering flight delays in Texas tornado aftermath

Published April 4, 2012 10:27PM (EDT)

DALLAS (AP) — Thousands of travelers were still facing delays and canceled flights Wednesday at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport a day after massive storms packing tornadoes rolled through north Texas, but the disruptions were mostly isolated and hadn't rippled out across the country.

American Airlines said about 500 flights in and out of DFW Airport had been canceled Wednesday after about 800 were canceled Tuesday.

The flight-tracking service FlightAware estimated that cancelations affected 50,000 travelers on Tuesday and 30,000 on Wednesday.

Some of those people spent the night on airport cots. A DFW Airport spokesman said that about 1,400 travelers spent Tuesday night at the airport while others were able to find hotel rooms.

By late Wednesday afternoon, American and American Eagle had inspected 26 planes and put them back into service, but 82 planes were still grounded, said spokesman Tim Smith. The company brought in extra repair crews from Tulsa, Okla., and Abilene, Texas, he said.

DFW Airport spokesman David Magana said more than 110 planes suffered varying degrees of hail damage. He said most belonged to American or American Eagle, which together account for more than 80 percent of flights at the airport, but hail also hit eight United planes and six Delta planes.

Southwest Airlines Co. said things had returned to normal at its Dallas Love Field base on Wednesday after more than 45 flights were canceled Tuesday. A spokesman said no planes were damaged, as Love Field dodged the worst of the storms.

Sometimes storms in one place, particularly a hub airport such as DFW, can cause ripple effects with delays and cancelations stretching across the country. But that didn't appear to be the case Wednesday.

Mark Duell of FlightAware said that American and American Eagle were "doing a great job of containing the problem to just flights to and from Dallas-Fort Worth." He said about 75 airports were seeing canceled flights due to the Texas storm and aircraft damage, but they were limited to flights to and from DFW and not affecting other routes.

The hail-damage inspections could have small but lingering effects on American's schedule. American canceled 51 flights for Thursday, all but four at DFW Airport, Duell said.

Hail dents can crack the thin aluminum skin of an airplane, leading to dangerous tears if not repaired, said Steven Cowell of SRC Aviation LLC, a consulting company in Denver. He said hail can also damage hydraulic and other equipment just beneath the skin on wings — passengers might notice the "Don't Step Here" warnings painted in places on the wings.

A July 2011 hailstorm in Denver damaged 22 planes used by Frontier Airlines, some of which were sidelined for weeks. Frontier canceled flights, put passengers on other airlines, and estimated that it lost $10 million because of the storm.

It wasn't immediately clear whether American's planes suffered similar damage. Smith, the airline spokesman, said it was too early to estimate the cost.

Cowell said some airplanes can return to the skies quickly after a little cosmetic work, but others may need significant inspections during which panels are removed to check the equipment below the skin. It can be a financial blow to an airline.

"Anytime you have an aircraft sitting on the ground, it's not making money," he said.


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By Salon Staff

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