Passenger services at two international airports in the United States had to stop, because of a lack of water in the respective terminals. Service has since returned to one of them.
There are two problems with logistics. One is that we don’t discuss it often enough. And two, that when we DO discuss it, it’s invariably because something bad just happened. Water is quite easy to take for granted, at an airport or anywhere else. And its absence can stop a lot of activities. Either because they would be dangerous, or impossible.
Texas in general and Houston in particular, saw some unusually cold weather in the past few days. Snow and icy conditions disrupted a lot of activities. You’d think aviation has seen enough disruptions in the past year, but nature can be fickle. Those who live in areas where water seldom freezes, know that when it DOES freeze, not everyone will be prepared for it. It appears that this was the case for Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport’s (KHOU) water supply.
On the 17th of February, airport authorities had to cancel all flights from the airport, due to lack of water. Incoming aircraft had to divert elsewhere. However, several people already at the airport couldn’t move elsewhere – or fly to their destinations. Airport staff had to provide water to restrooms in the terminal, manually. Such is the nature of logistics: pretty or not, it needs doing.
Fortunately for everyone, authorities were able to restore order to at least some facilities, the next day. Hobby Airport’s terminal could once again handle passengers. It could also handle aircraft, with crews working to de-ice runways, taxiways and aprons. Airports have to deal with solid water, too! This airport is a major operating base for Southwest Airlines.
Different Airports, Different Water Issues
Memphis International Airport (KMEM) had different water issues yesterday (19th). It is not clear if weather had a different role, but their passenger terminal has low water pressure issues. Scott Brockman, President and CEO of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, said:
“This is a last resort for MEM. A passenger airport cannot function without a safe and dependable water supply, which we do not have at this time. Our staff is committed to providing a safe, sanitary and secure operation. We hope that MLGW is able to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.”
MLGW is Memphis Light, Gas and Water. The airport’s website is providing constant updates regarding the water situation. One difference from Houston, is that driving to and from the Memphis airport isn’t facing icy conditions. So while the airport’s terminal isn’t operational, rental car companies are open. Hopefully this limits the numbers of people stuck at the site.
Memphis International is a major hub airport for FedEx Express. But the cargo company operates from its own facilities. So the water issues in the passenger terminal have not impacted their side of the airport. Given the need for cargo in these conditions, this has to be the silver lining. Another user of the airport is the Tennessee Air National Guard’s 164th Airlift Wing, operating C-17 Globemasters.
An airport or any other facility that has to cater for thousands of visitors per day, simply needs water. And lots of it. Issues like these may sound trivial, to many. But they really are part and parcel of the unseen operations, that keep air travelers going.