Lake Clear airport runway thaws, freeing flights after 18 days

Although the surface close to the terminal looks like a skating rink, airport personnel said Wednesday the runway was much better and they hoped to have it completely clear by Thursday. (Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)

LAKE CLEAR — After a “perfect storm” of misfortune closed the runway at Adirondack Regional Airport 18 days ago, on Dec. 23, Cape Air finally resumed flights Wednesday afternoon.

Airport personnel said that on Dec. 23, freezing rain followed by subzero temperatures, a critical equipment breakdown, and lack of a de-icing chemical all combined to close the runway for 18 days. Christmas Day flights were canceled, and holiday travelers rerouted to other airports or assisted with finding other transportation, said airport personnel.

Holly Wolff, whose son and daughter-in-law were due to fly into Saranac Lake on Dec. 26, expressed frustration with the flight cancellations. “As of that morning, the 9-something a.m. flight showed as delayed to 10:30, and the website said to go to the airport for the original flight time. The gate agent had no further information, and finally learned the airport was closed but did not know for how long. Finally at about 11:30 our son called here, and we called a friend who knew the airport manager who told us the airport wasn’t opening any time soon. Our son rented a car, which because it was last-minute and from the airport cost him $450.”

“It’s been a combination of several worst-case scenarios happening at the same time,” said Airport Manager Corey Hurwitch.

“First we had the icing event of Dec. 23 [freezing rain and dropping temperatures], and we had our broom break down in the middle of that storm,” Hurwitch, who has been employed at the airport for 10 years, said an event like this hadn’t occurred at the airport in his memory.

Personnel from U.S. Customs stop by the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear for lunch in January. (Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)

“We can’t use salt because it’s too corrosive,” said Hurwitch.

To thaw the runway, the airport needed a particular de-icing chemical, which it didn’t have on hand when the storm hit. That chemical doesn’t work below zero degrees Fahrenheit, so when the shipment arrived it wouldn’t have done any good. Temperatures have lingered in the subzeros for three and four nights at a time since Christmas.

The broom is a large piece of equipment used to keep the runway clean and dry. “It’s a high-speed rotary broom. It gets the surface a lot cleaner than the plow,” said Hurwitch.

On Wednesday morning, private aircraft began flying at the airport. Airport personnel said the runway, on which they had spread sand, looked a lot better than the plane parking area.

Cape Air spokesperson Trish Lorino said it’s up to the pilots whether they fly or not.

Adirondack Regional Airport was closed for 18 days following a weather event on Dec. 23 that iced over the runway. (Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)

“If they don’t believe it’s a safe environment, we cancel the flights,” she said.

“We try to stay open as many days as we can,” said Hurwitch.

“We offer accommodation on another form of transportation,” said Lorino. “But we clearly don’t want to cancel.”

Lorino encourages patrons to check the Cape Air website to check their flights. Although passengers receive email updates on their flights, she said checking the website is always a good idea.

The breakdown of this broom, a critical piece of equipment for the Adirondack Regional Airport, during Dec. 23 snowstorm meant crews could not keep the runway clear and dry. (Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)