'Superstorm' Sandy floods East Coast airports

October 31, 2012

Sandy
While Hartford-Brainard Airport was well inland in Hartford, Conn., and escaped flooding that damaged many airports, powerful winds tore two aircraft from tiedowns, including the Cessna seen here. Photo courtesy Terry Keller Jr./Premier Flight Center.

Flooding and fires claimed 40 lives, and the nation’s most populous region—the New York City metroplex—bore the brunt of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall on the New Jersey coast Oct. 29.

By Oct. 31, one of the nation’s busiest air travel hubs was only beginning to return to operation: John F. Kennedy International Airport was expected to return to service at noon. Innundated by a record storm surge, LaGuardia Airport sustained damage to terminals and equipment, and remained closed indefinitely. Newark Liberty International was listed by the FAA as open on Oct. 31, though several navigation systems remained offline. Teterboro Airport remained closed “until further notice,” according to the FAA and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The FAA urged pilots and aircraft operators to avoid the New York Class B airspace, until further notice, to make way for search-and-rescue and disaster-relief flights.

The scope of the storm’s impact extended far beyond New York, with damaging winds and flooding extending up the Connecticut coastline into Rhode Island, and south through New Jersey. The storm’s effects were felt across 19 states, with blizzard conditions in West Virginia and torrential rain soaking the Mid-Atlantic coast.

While many airports escaped serious damage, according to AOPA Airport Support Network volunteers who reported in from dozens of fields, there were general aviation losses at more than a few fields. At Hartford-Brainard Airport in Hartford, Conn, two aircraft—a Diamond motorglider and a Cessna 152—tore loose from their tie downs, the Cessna landing on a neighboring aircraft causing extensive damage to both.

Groton-New London Airport in Groton, Conn., was among several fields flooded by a storm surge that arrived on top of a high tide boosted by the full moon. Airport Manager Catherine Young said VFR operations would resume Oct. 31, but it would be days before IFR and night operations were restored.

“We have to let our lights dry out,” Young explained. There was no evidence of damage to aircraft on the field; all but one had been tucked in a hangar as the storm approached.

Hartford-Brainard Airport was one of five Connecticut fields where the FAA shut down control towers lashed by hurricane-force wind gusts. The same measure was taken at six other airports that did not necessarily close in Delaware, New Jersey, and New York.

FAA officials said Oct. 30 that the agency was still assessing damage done to airport facilities and navigation aids, and restoration of disaster relief and air travel was the top priority.

AOPA Insurance Services President Janet C. Bressler said Oct. 30 that damage claims were only beginning to arrive, and the full extent of the damage done would become clear only in the days to come. While some policies cover the cost of pre-storm relocation, many aircraft owners had little choice but to tie down tight and hope for the best.

“While none of us ever want our precious aircraft to suffer damage, some events are simply unavoidable, and there will likely be quite a number of losses in Sandy’s wake,” Bressler said. “For anyone that is discovering aircraft damage resulting from Hurricane Sandy we encourage you to immediately document the damage with photos, secure the aircraft as much as possible from any further damage, and notify your insurance broker or carrier immediately to begin the claim process.”