Boeing Co. officials want to meet with Charleston airport and Air Force base leaders to avert another travel freeze at the state's busiest runways following the historic winter storm earlier this month.
Airport CEO Paul Campbell said the airport initiated talks with Boeing and the Air Force and it was mutually agreed to set up a plan of action for the next weather event.
Boeing's request came after Charleston International was closed for nearly four days following the Jan. 3 winter storm that dumped more than 5 inches of snow at the airport, leaving icy tarmacs and other surfaces that thawed and refroze as temperatures teeter-tottered in the wintry mix's wake. Thousands of passengers trying to get to and from Charleston were stranded.
Charleston Air Force Base owns the two runways that Charleston International's carriers use, and it makes the call on their opening and closing, according to airport officials.
Correspondence between the airport, the Air Force and Boeing obtained by The Post and Courier through the Freedom of Information Act, shows Boeing, which assembles its 787 Dreamliner passenger plane at the airport, is looking forward to adopting an action plan before the next bout of inclement weather threatens the Lowcountry.
The aerospace giant's South Carolina plant relies on the runways to test and deliver planes and to receive critical Dreamliner components that are transported to the site on special 747 cargo jets.
"We would like to do a meeting in the coming weeks with all of us and the Air Force to figure out a plan for any future weather issues," Boeing official Lindsay Leonard said in a Jan. 8 email to airport leaders.
The email came the day after the Air Force opened the second runway. The first landing strip opened at noon Jan. 6, but none of the airlines serving the airport chose to resume flights until the next day.
Boeing had requested if it would be able to get a Dreamlifter, the specially modified 747 that ferries airplane parts around the globe, off the ground on the morning of Jan. 5. The Air Force determined that the runways were still icy and unsafe.
The planemaker along with the Air Force then began clearing away snow and ice later that day to try to get the runways and taxiways open again, according to Campbell, head of Charleston County Aviation Authority, which oversees the airport.
A meeting with all parties has not been set up as of Thursday but is expected to occur in the next two weeks, Campbell said.
Campbell said the airport is looking at options to avoid another prolonged shutdown because of wintry weather, such as having a local contractor on call to remove snow or ice.
"It doesn't make any economic sense for us to buy any equipment," Campbell said. "It was a once-in-30-year event."
The storm and its aftermath caused airlines to cancel more than 400 flights and affect about 30,000 passengers, who scrambled to find rental cars or change reservations to nearby airports.
The runways officially closed at 11:57 a.m. Jan. 3 after freezing rain fell on the area in the morning followed by afternoon snow. The final runway opened at 2:20 p.m. Jan. 7, according to airport officials.
Charleston airport's board voted unanimously Thursday to work with Boeing and the Air Force to develop a plan for future travel-crippling weather events at the airport.