August 16, 2004
While we don't yet know how many aircraft Hurricane Charley damaged, we do know that for aircraft owners insured through the AOPA Insurance Agency, help is just a phone call away.
"The first thing an owner should do is protect the aircraft from any further damage, then call 800/622-AOPA," said Greg Sterling, executive vice president and general manager of the AOPA Insurance Agency. "All we need is your name, tail number, and what happened, and we'll get started immediately.
Sterling said adjusters will be contacting the owners of the damaged aircraft quickly, usually within 48 hours.
"You're an integral part of the claims settlement process," said Sterling, "so make sure you and your adjuster are communicating regularly." Provide the insurance company with any documents that they request (aircraft logbooks, pilot logbooks, estimates, photographs, sworn statements) as promptly as possible. The most frequent cause of a delay in the claims settlement process is that the insurance company did not receive previously requested documents from the insured.
The AOPA Insurance Agency is the world's largest light aircraft insurance agency, offering a choice of policies from A-rated insurance companies. For a free, online quote and answers to frequently asked insurance questions, visit the Web site.
As central Florida begins the long process of recovering and rebuilding after Hurricane Charley, general aviation is also picking up the pieces and getting back to work.
Airports in Florida are open, and many are providing vital staging grounds for disaster relief. Even Punta Gorda's Charlotte County Airport (PGD), the hardest hit of all, is open to daylight operations for emergency aircraft.
Estimates range from 30 to 50 percent of based aircraft - as many as 100 aircraft - were damaged or destroyed at Charlotte County. Many T-hangars also were destroyed. But one runway was back in operation the day after the storm when President George W. Bush flew in by helicopter to visit the ravaged area.
Hurricane Charley was the worst hurricane to hit central Florida since Donna in 1960. The category 4 storm took an unexpected right turn Friday, cutting across Punta Gorda and plowing up the center of the state toward Daytona Beach. But as the reports start to come in from AOPA's Airport Support Network volunteers, it's also remarkable how well many airports actually fared.
"We're A-OK at BCT," reported J. Neil Haynie, ASN volunteer at Boca Raton Airport, "but look at Punta Gorda!" Haynie sent pictures of widespread devastation. Charley made landfall near Punta Gorda, with winds estimated near 145 mph (the anemometer blew away at 107 mph).
At Fort Myers' Page Field (FMY), south of Punta Gorda and a little inland, ASN volunteer Mark Twombly said several aircraft were flipped and some hangar doors pushed in, but he had heard reports of much worse damage at Naples, farther south.
Airports that were in the hurricane's path are filing notams, advising pilots that many tower lights are out. And with the force of the wind, it's not surprising that some ASOS and AWOS stations are also out of service.
Florida Aeronautics Director Bill Ashbaker told AOPA his staff is surveying the damage and expects to have a summary by tomorrow.
Among the hardest hit of the inland airports is Lake Wales Municipal (X07), where virtually every building was reported destroyed. But Lakeland Airport, on the other side of Charley's path, is a staging ground for disaster relief.
Orlando was particularly hard hit. On AOPA's message board, Ryan Ferguson detailed some of the damage at Orlando Executive (ORL) and Orlando Sanford International (SFB). "Charley nailed ORL and SFB," he wrote. "ORL is devastated and looks like a war zone... A DC-3 that has been undergoing renovation for years finally took flight, taking many of Showalter's T-hangars...."
"Somewhere north of 50, maybe closer to 70 airplanes were damaged or destroyed, said Bob Showalter, owner of Showalter Flying Service. About a dozen buildings on the airport were destroyed, and all but three buildings had some damage. Showalter's new terminal was one of the unscathed, and he reopened for business Saturday.
"It's unbelievable," Showalter said. "The best news for us is that nobody was hurt. The storm wasn't supposed to come here, and unfortunately some people took refuge in the path of the storm. I'm looking at our WSI computer stuck on the last image before the power outage, and it shows the storm perched on the edge of the airport. I'm saving this." According to Showalter, the wind went from 25 mph to "whatever it got to" in about three minutes. Showalter said the wind was reported at 105 mph sustained at Orlando International.
"Kissimmee Gateway Airport (ISM) was hit hard with damage to each of the five FBOs and about 70 percent of the airplanes on the field," said ASN volunteer Kathryn Budde-Jones. A tornado spawned by Charley collapsed two of Ranger Aviation's hangars, destroying many of the planes that had been moved inside for protection. Ironically, many of those aircraft had fled from Tampa, where earlier predictions had the storm making landfall.
Warbird Adventures lost two T-6 Texans and two Bell 47 helicopters in its hangar. The Flying Tigers Warbird Restoration Museum lost 40 feet of its facility, but the B-17 and B-25 survived intact. The C-47 sustained damaged when it tried to take off in the storm and then landed on the three trucks that were weighting it down, and other businesses on the field all sustained significant damage, Budde-Jones reports.
AOPA's message board was a place for friends to keep in touch with each other. As Charley bore down on Florida, pilots posted messages to let friends know how they were doing. And it was a place to commiserate as well. One pilot lamented the damage to his Citabria but received plenty of sympathy.
"My report from Daytona Beach International (DAB) is that the airport is open for business," said ASN volunteer Seth Young. "Several light aircraft at some FBOs and flight schools were damaged, and there is some hangar damage. We got off pretty good."
All aircraft that were inside a Daytona Beach Jet Center hangar were either damaged extensively or destroyed when the back wall of the hangar collapsed. The aircraft included two Citations and a number of piston singles. Ironically, many of the aircraft were put in the hangar temporarily for protection from the storm, while aircraft that were tied down on the ramp were spared major damage.
Melbourne International (MLB) volunteer Edwin Chancellor reported that F.I.T. Aviation put all their aircraft into Atlantic Jet Center hangars, and there was no significant damage to general aviation on the field. "The airport is open."
But not all were so fortunate.
"We had 14,000 based aircraft in Florida," noted Bill Johnson, executive director of the Florida Airports Council. "I expect now we have a lot fewer."
[See also airport status reports from AOPA's Airport Support Network volunteers in Florida.]
Update: August 17, 2004
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The FAA encourages pilots to do a number of things in order to increase safety, but does not require them. Check out these three actions that are recommended.
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