CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Despite multiple requests by NBC Charlotte to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration, there’s no clear understanding about what role the F.A.A. played an ordeal that lead to extensive tarmac delays at Charlotte Douglas International Airport Saturday evening. Heavy snow fell in the Charlotte area starting around 4 p.m. and continued through the night.
“The Department of Transportation will investigate the Charlotte tarmac delays as we do with all reported tarmac delays over the limit in our rules (3 hours domestic, 4 hours international),” said Bill Mosley, DOT Public Affairs. Mosley reiterated his statement Tuesday and refused to provide any further details about how the investigation would be conducted or mechanisms in place to ensure accountability.
Passengers and airport crews complained to NBC Charlotte that too many planes were allowed to land in the bad weather. They suggested a ground stop should’ve been imposed by the F.A.A., keeping more planes from landing while others still struggled to deplane and de-ice in a timely matter on the ground.
“There was a major, major failure on the part of the Federal Aviation Administration to control the flow of traffic into the airport,” a captain could be heard saying over the loud speaker on U.S. Airways plane Saturday night in an audio clip obtained by NBC Charlotte.
Mosley wouldn’t comment about whether the USDOT’s investigation would assess whether the F.A.A.’s actions were appropriate or whether the administration would be held accountable, if necessary. The F.A.A. can fine airlines for keeping passengers waiting on the tarmac longer than three hours upwards of $27,000 per passenger. But it’s not known if similar accountability is required of government agencies.
“Literally at this airport, there are way more planes than there are gates. This situation is not supposed to happen. They're supposed to install ground stops. They lifted the ground stops and they let the airplanes continue to arrive here,” the captain in the audio clip continued.
“At some point in time, you’ll be able to look back on this and say I was there when things fell apart in Charlotte.”
U.S. Airways wouldn’t comment on how the F.A.A. handled the snow storm and grounds stops Saturday. The airline offered vouchers to many of its customers impacted by Saturday’s logjam on the tarmac.
The F.A.A. referred NBC Charlotte to the U.S. DOT for comment. USDOT officials say their investigation into the tarmac delays at Charlotte Douglas may take a year or longer.