City leaders have repeatedly called the addition of commercial air service at Stillwater Regional Airport a “game changer” in terms of convenience for travelers, whether for business or pleasure, and in terms of economic development. It’s even been said to give Oklahoma State University a leg up in recruiting athletes.
But the service expansion came with growing pains and Stillwater’s airport staff found itself facing new demands as travelers began counting on them and Envoy Air, the American Airlines service provider, to reliably get them where they needed to go.
Icing on the runway forced the cancellation of several commercial flights last February. Because they were often evening flights, it caused a cascade of cancellations that also inconvenienced travelers on the next day’s early morning turn-around flight.
But Stillwater Regional Airport is investing almost $50,000 in a system to help prevent that from happening again, Airport Director Paul Priegel said.
It’s stocking 25,000 gallons of a liquid de-icer that can be used to melt ice and prevent it from forming. Within a few weeks, it will also have a custom-designed sprayer capable of covering up to 72 feet of the 100 foot wide runway with the de-icing chemical.
The runway is grooved to provide traction and handles snow or even light sleet with little problem and the airport owns snow-clearing equipment, he said. In previous years, that had usually been enough.
But last winter brought unusual weather patterns. Small, localized bands of freezing rain and mist repeatedly pushed through the area, glazing the runway’s surface. The airport had de-icing equipment for the aircraft but didn’t have a way to de-ice the surface of the runway, Priegel said.
Even if the whole runway wasn’t coated, a patch in the middle that sits lower and tends to accumulate ice could make the whole thing unusable.
Conditions in this part of the country change quickly and surfaces that were merely wet can begin freezing in a matter of minutes. Priegel says that means sometimes flights had to be canceled before conditions had actually deteriorated to avoid putting people in danger.
“You don’t want to have a plane in the air and not have any way to deal with it,” he said. “We will always err on the side of caution and safety.”
Stillwater Regional Airport has requested assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration to buy snow and ice removal equipment but has too many grants open at this time. Funding will be available in a few years to replace the airport’s aging but still functional snow removal equipment and upgrade the de-icer, he said.
In the meantime, Priegel says the airport is prepared for winter weather and can promise travelers much greater reliability this winter.
“This just really completes us,” he said. “It’s all part of growing into the air service.”