Southwest Airlines Hit by Hail at DIA-Flights Cancelled.
Writers note: Doc was an employee of Southwest Airlines, serving as a Ramp Agent at Denver International Airport.
It's one of the biggest fears as an airline employee: hail. $50 million dollar aircraft sitting in the way of a Colorado thunderstorm packing strong winds, deadly lightning, and frozen balls of airplane damaging ice. Late last night, one of these storms blew into DIA and damaged about 20 Southwest Airlines aircraft. As a result, Southwest canceled 60 flights today (Monday) as maintenance teams will have to closely inspect every inch of these planes for damage.
A little background....Southwest does not provide 24-hour service. Considering the size of Southwest at DIA and that it serves as a huge hub for the airline, the planes that sit all night are what they call "terminators" - flights that arrived late the night before and end (or terminate) their flight schedule for the day. Many of those planes will be "originators" the next day as they will begin the flight schedule. While it is tough to predict when/where storms of this magnitude will hit, Southwest is diligent in keeping up with weather developments and will divert or get aircraft turned around and out of the area as soon as possible. With last night's situation, they were shut down and the planes were sitting ducks.
It doesn't take much to damage an aircraft. Pea-sized hail can do enough damage to ground a plane, but you and I know we don't usually see hail that small around here. As a lead agent on a gate, one of my responsibilities was to do a "walk around" and check for any dents or damage - usually caused by bird strikes. Balls of ice falling at a high rate of speed, no matter what size, against a thin metal skin will cause a huge problem for the plane and airline.
Obviously, there are other airlines at DIA (United being the largest) that had planes sitting out there last night and are having the same issue. The forecast for today also calls for severe thunderstorms and a chance of large hail. No one is more aware of the forecast and the associated conditions that those that work on the ramp at Denver International Airport.
Meanwhile, keep your eye on the skies around here. Don't be surprised if you see some major carriers from DIA diverting to the Northern Colorado Regional Airport to avoid one of these storms.