Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Charlotte Douglas International Airport Manager's De-Icing Fiasco

Charlotte Douglas International Airport was operating on a heightened state of alert early Monday as the first flakes of snow began to fall across the runways, sidewalks and parking lots of the nation's 8th busiest airport. Extra staff and equipment were on hand to handle any amount of snow that fell, and there was a general feeling that the storm would pass without much disruption.

The airport is for the most part, a city unto itself, a city that has for years been the personal fiefdom of manager Jerry Orr. This is a place where there is a understandably close relationship between Orr and US Airways, as much as there is a long standing hands off relationship between Orr and the Charlotte City Council.

As the snow continued to fall on Manager Orr's kingdom all seemed well, except for one small detail. According to According to WFAE News reporter Julie Rose, de-icing equipment operators were noting a higher than normal consumption of fluid required to de-ice the aircraft.

It wasn't long before airport staff realized the amount of de-icing fluid on hand wasn't going to last if the snow kept dumping. Planes were reportedly icing over so fast that many were requiring three-times the usual amount of de-icing fluid.

Back in December Charlotte Douglas International's airport manager had touted the value of 28 new de-icing trucks that he had purchased, the cost over $10 million. (Charlotte Buys 28 De-Icing Trucks)

A little background:(On September 13, 2010, Charlotte City Council approved a three-year contract with Contego Systems, LLC to operate for the city a consolidated aircraft de-icing facility at the airport, without discussion. (interesting that the amount of the contract is x'd out at the CDIA advisory board web site which is here.)

The de-icing was traditionally handled by each airline, but Orr convinced US Airways that the city could do a better job. As part of the deal US Airways sold the city nearly $500,000.00 de-icing fluid left over from the 2009-2010 winter season.

Contego Systems, LLC then recommended that the Airport purchase twenty-eight (28) de-ice trucks and four (4) training simulators in order to provide adequate de-icing resources during winter weather events.

Orr's office released an invitation to bid on September 30, 2010 at the end of the bid period there was only one bidder Global Ground Support, Inc. and Charlotte City Council approved the purchase on November 8, 2010 with minimal discussion.

(Note: during that meeting Jerry Orr told City Council Members that Contego Systems would be responsible for the purchase of the fluid. (Jerry Orr: "We contracted September 13th with a third party that will maintain the trucks, operate them, buy the fluid, and do the whole operation.))

On Tuesday around 11 am, as the snow changed to light freezing rain US Airway's largest hub of flight operations came to a grinding halt. But it wasn't the snow or the ice, rather it was the lack of de-icing chemicals that shut down Contego/Charlotte's de-icing operation and US Airways flights. Jerry Orr's kingdom had run out of de-icing fluid.

The long wait for a fresh delivery of de-icing fluid had began. De-icing trucks remained parked as air crews and passengers called home to explain the sudden turn of events.

US Airways mangers reaction was predicable, they lied, making up any excuse to pacify passengers, because the truth that US Airways had hired the City of Charlotte to de-ice their planes and that the airport had run out of de-icing solution no one would ever believe.

If you happened to be a US Airways passenger looking out a terminal window on Tuesday you might have noticed unhappily that Delta and America flights were departing pretty much on time. Why?

The shocker is that last year US Airways signed a contract hiring the City of Charlotte to de-ice their planes while other airlines continued handle their own de-icing.

By late Tuesday more than 300 flights had been canceled, planes with CLT as a destination were diverted because they would not be able to depart again without being de-iced.

And those new state of the art de-icing trucks? Worthless, of the 28 that the airport had ordered for delivery only four were in Charlotte, and none were operational on Monday or Tuesday.

The winter weather that painted Charlotte as a slick white Christmas card was predicted no less than seven days out. In fact WCNC's Brad Panovich had been discussing the approaching storm via Twitter nearly non stop since January 4th.

According a report by WFAE News reporter Julie Rose "US Airways has yet to determine whether it will seek compensation from the Charlotte airport for revenues lost as a result of the deicing fluid shortage."

How much compensation? Figure 300 flights with an average of 84 passengers at an average ticket price of $435.00 and you get a number in excess of 10 million. Of course not all that revenue was lost, some passengers were re booked, but many flew on other airlines or made other arrangements. The total number and cost to Charlotte taxpayers will no doubt be staggering.

Cedars Take: Honestly why in the world is the city of Charlotte in the aircraft de-icing business? Why would every city council member vote in favor of approving the purchase of equipment that costs more than 10 million dollars and authorize the airport manager to start up a de-icing business and contract with US Airways?

Cedar Posts understands what happened. Jerry Orr's office took on a new scheme to get cash into the airport coffers.

De-icing I'm sure seemed like a lucrative business, the only thing is that propylene glycol alcohol is not cheap and becomes more expensive when it is just sitting around in tanks. And it has a somewhat limited shelf life. So why have a bunch of the stuff sitting around in tanks? It doesn't make sense to have thousands of gallons sitting around unless you plan on having a snow storm.

It seems that 3 days before the storm swept over Charlotte, the management of the nation's 8th busiest airport knew they had a problem, because forecasters were calling for a "major" winter storm and the supply of aircraft de-icing fluid left behind by US Airways was dangerously low.

So on January 7, 2010 Jerry Orr sent out an Invitation to Bid on

But according to the WFAE report, Charlotte airport spokeswoman Haley Gentry stated that the airport quickly realized Monday night that its supply of de-icing fluid wouldn’t suffice.

"We started off with our tanks full, and you know, this may require us to change what we have on hand and look at some of our processes," said Gentry.

Gentry is of couse lying, or at least really streching the facts. The airport staff knew with an approaching storm that the supply of de-icing fluid on hand would not be enough a weel prior to the event and that is why the bid request went out on January 7, 2011.

Jerry Orr's operation had ordered the fancy new trucks but forgot to buy the de-icing fluid.

There are just some types of business the City of Charlotte shouldn't be in, one is de-icing aircraft. The risks far outweigh the rewards, not only are we responsible to US Airways but also to the passengers. Should an aircraft not be properly de-iced and have a fatal accident that liability would pass on to Charlotte's taxpayers.

After a week of weather hype in the local media, the heavens opened up and the storm dumped a sizable mixture of snow and freezing rain on the Queen city over a 48 hour period. In the end everyone was ready, that is everyone except Jerry Orr.


Anonymous said...

Orr is an idiot and we all know what City Council
Is: an embarassment.
Jerry Orr, Rodney Monroe, Harry Jones, etc. All operate the same: with impunity and NO OVERSIGHT!
They each have their own little fiefdoms and operate in the shadows.
The only time they come out of hiding is to ask for more money for their ridiculous "projects" and to defend themselves against their monumental screwups and lie, lie, lie.

Anonymous said...

"of the 28 that the airport had ordered for delivery only four were in Charlotte"

Excuse me? Where are the other 24?

Cedar Posts said...

If I understand the email I rec'd from an airport advisory committee member correctly the contract calls for a delivery period of six months.

So they could deliver them all at once or a few at a time.

Anonymous said...

Good work Cedar! Again you uncover the facts regarding our smoke filled room deals that Charlotte is becoming famous for.

This one looks like it will cost us dearly.

So in short Orr told US Airways the city would do the de-icing for a fee and US Airways said deal.

The Jerry Orr went on to spend a butt load of cash to buy new equiptment but forgot to buy the de-icing fluid.

WoW! What a feaking dumbass!

Anonymous said...

You mean to tell me that not one city council member questioned this grand scheme? Not one? Surely you jest?

Anonymous said...

I'm not joking and stop calling me Shirley!

Anonymous said...

From WSOC News:

Jerry Orr, the airport director, said it was difficult to predict such a huge amount of ice. In a typical snowstorm, the airport uses between 50 and 100 gallons of de-icing fluid on a plane. On Monday night, it used 1,000 gallons on just one plane.

“We've run through an annual supply in the last couple of days,” Orr said.

When Eyewitness News asked Orr how he would respond to critics who said the airport wasn't adequately prepared, he simply said, “They're wrong."

Jerry Orr is a lying sack of horse dung, he knows that Charlotte often gets more ice than snow. He knew he was short and thought he had just enough to get through the storm. Wrong he blew it.

But he is unwilling to admit his failure.

Jerry it time to retire! Take a hint bud!

Bart said...

So what are the odds I can get US Air to refund my unused tickets?
Or have them pay my rental car (yes I drove to where I needed to be).
So far no luck on either request.
Guess I'm done flying US ScAir.

Anonymous said...

I was one of the passengers on Jan 11th. me and my wife got stranded for two days. US airways would not tell the truth until last minute.
There were no rental cars left and if there were any they demanded that we return the car to the location? how is that possible?
airport even failed to distribute blankets or water bottles.
This was total system failure and chaos and I am not sure where I can file a complaint against this.

Bart said...

I hope some very greedy law firm starts a class action suit since this was not weather or mechanical related. It was gross incompetence.
Anyways, for future reference, I got my rental car from a non-airport agency which had one-way cars. I just had to take a taxi to the rental car location. Most importantly I got out or purgatory (if it was that nice).
I agree the lying by the gate agent was way over the top. She'd say one thing and the sign behind her said something completely different.

Anonymous said...


I write a letter to the president of US Airways. Be polite and brief. Send it via FedEx ask him to refund your ticket and comp your rental car costs. Provide a copy of both.

I'll bet you get a response.

You might even send a letter to Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx.

Good Luck!

Cedar said...

Airlines lie all the time. My fav is "we have been cleared to land" when the plane is still ten miles out.

Anonymous said...

Jerry Orr's mantra for the past couple of decades has been "I can do it better, faster, and cheaper". Looks like he finally got bit. The bigger question is will the City Manager call his bluff? Doubt it. Let's face it, Jerry is a dinosaur and needs to be shown the door.

Anonymous said...

Cedar thanks for the indepth work on the De-Icing Fiasco.

I'd say Jerry Orr and his staff are not to be trusted, with what I'd call one of our biggest resources.

The truth needs to be told! Why did the other bidders pull out?

Why they hiding the contract price? What happens if US Airways cancels the contract for non-performance?