Airline fights back from storm

Great Lakes planes damaged by hail back in service

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— Great Lakes Aviation officials said Friday 11 of 21 aircraft damaged by hail in Denver Wednesday night are back in service and flights at Yampa Valley Regional Airport should be back to pre-storm levels by Monday.

Great Lakes was already struggling to maintain its schedule of eight daily flights at the airport near Hayden before Wednesday night's hail storm at Denver International Airport. Great Lakes is the only commercial airline operating at YVRA this summer.

The storm damaged 21 of 48 aircraft in Great Lakes' fleet, causing five flight cancellations at YVRA on Thursday and two more on Friday. However, Vice President of Marketing Dick Fontaine said all four 30-passenger Embraer Brasilia turboprops damaged in the storm were back in service. The Brasilia is the primary aircraft serving YVRA and Great Lakes has a total of just eight.

Fontaine said Great Lakes placed an emphasis on serving its larger destinations like Casper and Cheyenne, Wyo., and Steamboat in the wake of the storm. He did not know how many passengers at YVRA were impacted by reduced flights due to the hail storm.

YVRA Station Manager Jim Halgren said two flights operated on Thursday, and of six flights expected to operate on Friday, two were on the 19-passenger Beech 1900s.

He said some passengers whose flights were canceled left YVRA on Alpine Taxi shuttles. Others drove their own cars to Denver and others rented cars. But he was concerned whether those people would be able to fly out of Denver, and whether they would be able to find hotel rooms if their connecting flights to larger cities were canceled.

United Airlines reported that 32 of its Boeing and Airbus planes were damaged on the ground at DIA, and some may be out of service for weeks.

Of the damaged aircraft, 11 were back in service on Friday, Fontaine said, and parts for the other 10 were due to be flown in that day. Most of the damaged parts involved control surfaces on the aircraft, Fontaine said.

Great Lakes' service at YVRA has come under fire late this month, and Fontaine apologized for canceled flights and bumped passengers on June 18, before the storm.

He attributed the airline's struggles in the Yampa Valley to high-elevation weight restrictions. Those restrictions have limited the passengers and payload the airplane can carry, and have impacted the Brasilia more than the airline anticipated, he said.

Airport Manager Jim Parker said the airline had already effectively canceled two of its eight daily flights due to a shortage of flight crews. Fontaine said Great Lakes will formally reduce its daily schedule at Hayden from eight to six round trips on July 8.

Halgren said typical aircraft damage associated with a hail storm amounts to dents to the skin of the aircraft. Halgren does not work for Great Lakes, but for Air Wisconsin, which has suspended service to YVRA until next ski season. Air Wisconsin has contracted to provide ground services to Great Lakes at YVRA this summer.

The biggest impact from a hail storm, "is the fact that (airplanes) have to be inspected," Halgren said. He explained that airline mechanics must scrutinize the surface of the planes for dents, measure the depth of each dent, record the information and relay it to engineers working for the aircraft manufacturer. They, in turn, make a determination about the airworthiness of the plane.

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