All flights expected to take off at MIA

Fuel farm fire causes six days of flight disruption


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March 30--After hundreds of cancelled flights, thousands of trashed travel itineraries and six days of 24/7 scrambling by repair crews, operations at Miami International Airport should finally return to some semblance of normal Wednesday for the first time since a fuel farm blaze lit up the sky in a massive fireball.

If you are scheduled to fly out of Miami International, there is every reason to expect that the flight will occur. And probably on time.

No flight cancellations are forecast Wednesday, a huge improvement from last Friday, when American Airlines had to call off 192 flights.

"The fuel farm is running at 50 percent capacity," said Pedro Hernandez , the MIA official in charge of the fuel farm, explaining how two diesel pumps were installed Saturday for tanker refueling. "The airlines are flying with extra fuel, so they do not have to top off at Miami, which is helping reduce my demand for fuel by 40 percent."

The fuel farm will be at 80 percent capacity when an additional four electric pumps are installed this week for "normal underground hydrant fueling."

A massive blast last Wednesday scorched the MIA fuel farm, stranding thousands of passengers around the country. American Airlines -- which accounts for the bulk of MIA's traffic -- has had to scrap nearly 700 flights since then.

Thirty flights -- 15 round-trips -- were canceled Tuesday. That means 95 percent of the airport's flights took off, and all but 11 of them on time.

By late in the day, only 10 of Wednesday's American flights were expected to be late.

"Check your flight," said American Airlines spokeswoman Martha Pantin. "Overall, though, operations are going remarkably well."

Pulling off this feat took about 100 people working all day and night, from safety inspectors to environmental engineers, certified welders and mechanical contractors, Hernandez said. Not to mention the Miami-Dade Fire Department, which took control of the site.

"The first two days it was shift after shift after shift around-the-clock," said Hernandez, who said he has slept about 24 hours total since the fire.

Because the blaze ruined all 14 fuel pumps used to fill up the planes, the workers toiled to get an interim pumping system in place. The airlines are doing their part by carrying the extra fuel, he said.

He said repairs should be complete "within a year." Each pump will cost $30,000 to $50,000 -- not including valves, installation, electronic control panels and technical stuff that make contractors' tabs soar.

The costs should be covered by insurance, Hernandez said. None of the dozens of experts called in have presented invoices yet.

"I'm sure I'm going to get a bill, but right now we're on a 'just get it done' basis,'?" he said. "It's going to be millions of dollars."

Pantin said it's too early to calculate the losses for American Airlines, which provided hotel and food vouchers for stranded travelers.

"Our focus has been on passengers and making this as smooth as possible," she said.

New Orleans tourist Pamela Lyles said she spent three hours on hold with American Airlines trying to find out about her Miami-New Orleans flight home Sunday afternoon. After watching flight after flight get canceled Friday and Saturday, she wound up buying two one-way tickets on Southwest Airlines from Fort Lauderdale just in case.

But her flight wasn't ditched.

"Now I'm sitting on $600 in airline credit," Lyles said. "There's got to be a lot of people in the same situation who spent a lot of time and money. We were just afraid we'd have no way to get home."

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