Ice, Ice, Baby!
I had the unique experience of flying into and out of JFK after last week’s ice storm, and witnessing the aftermath. Carumba! Many of you have probably heard about Jet Blue’s operational woes during this time. I am not a Jet Blue employee and I am unfamiliar with their operational policies. I do know some of their pilots and FlyGuy has total respect for the Jet Blue pilots’ professionalism and skill. I really felt sorry for what they must have been going through with passenger frustration and rage at the maximum limit. We pilots are always along for the same ride you are, except we are ultimately responsible for your safety and comfort. When the managers of an airline operation make mistakes, we along with you suffer. The entire airport at JFK was a mess. I landed there on Friday night under clear skies with a temperature of 25 degrees. The ice that had formed on Wednesday was still there, frozen solid, and days away from melting. The runways had been scraped clear and deiced along with some of the taxiways. There were many turnoffs, taxiways, and intersections that had not been cleared and were impassable to any aircraft. I had to be very careful as to what surface I chose to taxi on and all movement on that surface, especially the turns. As we taxied back after one landing we saw a Boeing 747 taking off on the runway we just landed on. We were on a taxiway next to the runway. The 747s’ jet blast was throwing chunks of ice the size of a newspaper 50 feet into the air along with ice crystals, water, and snow. The icy mist engulfed the entire jet until the nose lifted off. A person standing by the runway would have been shredded by the fast flying pieces of sharp ice. The mist lingered in the air and slowly settled. As we approached our ramp area where there are about 15 gates, I was surprised by what I saw. The entire surface was a solid sheet of ice. It had a milky white sheen to it. There were two big jets in the ramp area slowly maneuvering to their respective gates. We were cleared in and I taxied very slowly, maybe 2 miles an hour. I kept both engines running as I was unsure as to how much power I would need to make my final turn to the gate. As I started to make my turn a large plow drove into my path. I was not moving very fast and I stopped immediately. The plow had a scraping blade about 15 feet long on its front. It was lowered to the ground and scraping absolutely nothing off the surface of the ice. The copilot said, “What’s he doing, polishing the ice”? I completed my turn and stopped on the red guidance light. After we shut the engines down I noticed a ground crew at the next gate working around the wheels of a jet. They were trying to free the tires that were frozen to the ground! They had been working for 3 hours just trying to get it free enough to move it. Apparently this was a problem all around the airport. Ground vehicles suffered the same fate. The tugs used to push the jets back had huge snow chains on all 4 tires. At my company alone there were delays all through the weekend, many of them hours long. The photos I have attached tell it all. Be Safe, FlyGuy.