Runway closure stranded thousands

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Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen (OSL) was forced to suspend all flight departures and landings Monday morning, because of rain that froze upon hitting the runways. The complete halt in air traffic stranded thousands and caused major disruption throughout the day.

The airport re-opened at 10am but operations were severely restricted. Jo Kobro, information chief at Gardermoen, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that 40 aircraft had been left standing at the airport and they needed to leave before incoming aircraft could arrive. Taxiing areas also remained limited, he said.

According to civil aviation authority Avinor’s traffic reports, eight flights were allowed to take off by 10:20am, to important hubs at London Heathrow, Frankfurt and Amsterdam, and to Berlin and Stavanger. These were flights that should have departed before 8am, so delays remained and connections were affected.

Weather phenomenon
The closure was blamed on a weather phenomenon that set in during the night. Temperatures had fallen on Sunday and it was snowing most of the afternoon and evening. But then temperatures rose, turning the snow into rain, while the ground remained frozen.

Kobro said that no matter how hard maintenance crews tried to keep the runways clear, they couldn’t prevent the rain from freezing on contact with the ground. Sand and salt were washed away as were various chemicals used to tackle the ice, but they started taking effect later in the morning. The runways remained far too slippery and dangerous to allow takeoffs or landings before 10am.

The majority of flights on their way to Gardermoen tried circling for awhile, in the hopes the runways could reopen, but most were forced to return to the cities from where they took off. Long-distance flights were redirected to other airports. SAS’ flight from New York, SK908, for example, was sent to Copenhagen where it had to wait until it could finally proceed to Gardermoen. That meant SAS’ return flight from Oslo to New York would be delayed because of the late incoming aircraft.

Meanwhile, all departing flights from Oslo were initially cancelled early Monday morning, first until 8am and then until 10am. Kobro told NRK that state meteorologists were predicting warmer temperatures later in the morning that also may prevent the rain from freezing.

Disruptions all day
Passengers were told to show up for flights as scheduled and then consult their airlines for rebookings. Delays were expected, with Kobro noting that Mondays are always busy at Gardermoen with around 60,000 persons passing through the airport.

Among those affected by OSL’s closure were departing Nobel Peace Prize winners, their guests, various dignitaries and entertainers who were in Oslo over the weekend for the Peace Prize ceremonies. The formal Nobel program ended Sunday with the Nobel Concert in Oslo and many were traveling home on Monday.

NRK reported that prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, was being escorted to the military portion of the airport at Rygge, just south of Moss, which wasn’t hit by the freezing rain that halted traffic through Gardermoen. Her group would be flown from Norway in a private jet. Flight alternatives for the two other prize winners, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, were pending.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee takes care of arrangements for the winners and their guests, but most of the others likely would need to deal with the disruptions themselves.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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