Flooding at Austin Airport Still Wreaking Havoc on Flights

Nov 5, 2015

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Last Friday, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport received a record amount of rain, causing most flights in and out of Austin to be cancelled. Nearly a week later, the airport is still reeling from the damage done that day. TPG Contributor JT Genter reports from Austin on the current situation and what you can expect if you are flying through AUS soon.

Before last Friday, the most rain that Austin Airport ever received in a single 24-hour period was 8.70 inches, back in 1974. Last Friday, this 40 year-old record was bested when 14.11 inches fell in just six hours – including nearly six inches in just one hour. That’s a LOT of rain.

The storms and resulting flooding caused flight delays starting around 8:45am and eventually resulted in the airfield being completely closed for a few hours. Once back open, Austin airport’s air traffic control was still severely limited operationally. Nearly a week later, Austin ATC has still not returned to full capacity.

Much of the fence on the south side of 17R/35L runway was knocked down during the storms.
Much of the fence on the south side of 17R/35L runway was knocked down during the storms.

According to an FAA statement, the ground floor of the Austin Air Traffic Control Tower and Terminal Radar Approach Control facility was flooded by approximately six inches of water during the storms. This necessitated control of the Austin air traffic to be transferred to the Houston Air Route Traffic control center on Friday. Yesterday, the Houston Air Route Traffic control center handed over control of Austin-area flights to San Antonio, which will certainly help reduce the workload for Houston controllers.

Austin Airport's weather-monitoring station shut down due to flooding. Photo courtesy of National Weather Service San Antonio.
Austin Airport’s weather-monitoring station shut down due to flooding. Photo courtesy of National Weather Service San Antonio.

Other important ground systems were similarly disabled. The airport’s Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) ended up underwater during the storms, going offline after recording 9 inches of rain.

Austin Airport's "temporary tower" on Wednesday afternoon.
Austin Airport’s “temporary tower” on Wednesday afternoon.

On Monday, a temporary tower was set-up on the airfield to allow the AUS to take back control of part of the airfield’s operations. However, the temporary tower could only control one runway, necessitating further delays and cancellations Monday and Tuesday.

Still lots of cancelled and delayed flights Tuesday afternoon.
Still lots of cancelled and delayed flights Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday night, the FAA announced that the main tower was reopened, allowing both runways to be utilized. However, radar services remain down “for several weeks” for repairs. The airport will not be able to return to normal until the radar is operational, but, according to an FAA statement released today, AUS hopes to be operating at 90% capacity within the next few days.

Far fewer cancellations Wednesday morning, but still plenty of delays.
Far fewer cancellations Wednesday morning, but still plenty of delays.

The issues continued this morning, with rain causing the airport to put a Ground Delay Program in place from 9am Thursday to 1am Friday. As of 9am Thursday, this delay was causing an average delay to incoming flights of 1 hour and 51 minutes.

If you are flying in, out or through Austin airport over the next few weeks, plan and prepare for delays. With San Antonio just about an hour away, you might want to consider flying in and out of SAT instead.

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