Airport, while bested, did its best


On behalf of all of us at the Port of Portland, I appreciate this opportunity to say thank you to our customers for their patience with air service interruptions during the unusually severe ice storm earlier this month Ñ a storm of a magnitude not seen since the late 1970s.

We realize Portland International Airport provides crucial services to our community and has an important influence on the local economy. Travelers and businesses rely on the airport for visiting friends and loved ones, getting away on vacation and sending important business mail and cargo.

Because of that, we take our responsibility very seriously, and I assure you that we do our best to keep the airport operating during snow and ice storms. I can also assure you that the airlines serving PDX care equally about our community.

However, it's tough to fight Mother Nature and win. Even with our best efforts, the ice storm forced closure of airport runways for about a day and a half when runway conditions became unacceptable from a safety perspective. Essentially, airlines canceled all flights for two full days.

Our work to battle a storm actually starts before snow and freezing rain fall in Portland. Our port maintenance team applies de-icing materials to runways, taxiways and key roadways near the terminal building. The port places operators for snowplows, snowblowers and de-icing trucks on standby.

As the first snow starts accumulating, snowplows and other de-icing equipment take to the runways to keep them open. Key airport staff begin 12-hour rotating shifts, providing round-the-clock coverage. The airport's Emergency Operations Center kicks into high gear, establishing 24-hour support from airport representatives of all disciplines and enabling us to call in assistance. In the recent storm, the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and Alaska Airlines generously provided support for stranded travelers.

Plowing and de-icing work continues all through a storm in an effort to maintain airfield operations. However, because of the magnitude of the recent ice storm and extended duration of subfreezing temperatures, the ice formed by the freezing rain simply became too thick for de-icing materials to penetrate. In the end, only warming temperatures gave us the leverage to crack the ice and begin the airport thaw.

We are proud that we have successfully kept the runways open for nearly 25 years in snow and lesser ice events. While we feel the basic elements were in place to address the storm as best we could, all of us involved in the storm activities are discussing any adjustments that might be useful in future events. We believe each wintry event provides an opportunity to learn and improve.

Again, we thank the citizens of Oregon and Southwest Washington for their understanding, and we will do our very best to serve our community in the future.

Steve Schreiber is the Port of Portland aviation director. He lives in Southeast Portland.