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What it’s like to keep the Idaho Falls Regional Airport running in the snow

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IDAHO FALLS — It’s been a nightmare for passengers traveling on airlines over the past two weeks. Thousands of flights across the United States have been canceled due to COVID-19, staffing shortages or unexpected weather delays.

Snowfall has been a big problem at airports in the West. According to KOMO News, a spokeswoman for Seattle-Tacoma International airport said they have had close to 1,500 canceled flights for the month of December, and more than 85% of those coming just in the past four days. The airport has been plagued with snow.

In Idaho, the Idaho Falls Regional Airport has been able to keep its runways and airport operating, even though there have been some delays with flights from airlines.

“Once the snow starts falling, we have crews around the clock ensuring the runways remain open and safe for the aircraft,” said Rick Cloutier, director at the Idaho Fall Regional Airport. “We’ve been very fortunate. Most of the delays that we have encountered have nothing to do with Idaho Falls. They are delays from other airports, Seattle, Denver, Dallas and Salt Lake City.”

Cloutier told EastIdahoNews.com that the Idaho Falls Regional Airport has not closed in a number of years for any kind of weather event. He said maintenance crews start planning for these types of weather events days in advance.

“I know Seattle has had some bad weather and it’s held them out. We don’t let that happen here. They can get to the runway and get out of here, we make sure of that,” said Kenny Buttars, facilities manager at the Idaho Falls Regional Airport.

IDA airport
The Idaho Falls Regional Airport, EastIdahoNews.com

Buttars has been working at the Idaho Falls Regional Airport for 22 years. He explained there are at least seven to eight pieces of big equipment including snowplows that are used at the airport to keep the runway clear.

“Our main runway is 9,000 feet long, 150 feet wide. It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to clean the runway,” said Buttars. “It’s normally not too bad, but with that storm yesterday (Wednesday), it was just a total nightmare. I mean really, it’s coming down so hard that you just have to keep at it. You can’t stop, because you have planes coming in and landing so you have to be the one that makes the call to just keep going.”

Buttars said there are crews working around the clock seven days a week to ensure safety for the planes and passengers that land. He said crews even came out and worked on Christmas.

“We have a crew here that starts at 4 in the morning that will run until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. I have another crew on active storms. I have another crew that comes in at nights and runs all night until the next morning,” he said.

The plows are constantly driving back and forth due to snow continually falling or blowing onto the runway.

During weather events, Cloutier said they are prepared and want to ensure others coming to the airport are too.

“Be patient, plan ahead, check with your airline to make sure that everything is operating on time, and just plan ahead and arrive early to the airport so you can be safe,” said Cloutier.

The Idaho Falls Regional Airport is served by five airlines, including Allegiant Air, Delta Airlines, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines and American Airlines. There are an average of 16 departures and 16 arrivals a day.

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