The new de-icing system at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport failed its first big test Tuesday during the city's first snowstorm of the season, causing long delays for morning passengers.
Flights out of Cleveland were delayed as much as three hours because of the problems, airline spokeswomen said. No one at Hopkins or with two of the airport's major airlines - Continental and Southwest - would explain what the problem was.
Under the de-icing system, completed earlier this year, all airplanes must taxi out to a central area on a runway where trucks spray chemicals onto the planes to remove ice. The chemicals are contained in the area.
Previously, each airline used its own trucks, which sprayed planes at the gates.
A new system was mandated by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to limit pollution of nearby waterways.
The city paid millions of dollars for the design of the de-icing system. The airlines share the cost of paying a company to de-ice the planes.
Tuesday's delays had a domino effect, causing the cancellation of one Southwest flight into Cleveland from Chicago and of several connecting flights from Cleveland, a Southwest spokeswoman said.
Continental, which operates a hub in Cleveland, said 20 of its morning flights were delayed, but no flights in or out of Hopkins were canceled because of the de-icing problems.
But at least one Continental passenger never made it to his destination because of the backup.
Dave Klugman of Bay Village said he boarded a 8:55 a.m. flight to Jacksonville, Fla., for a lunch meeting. But because of a 2½-hour wait to de-ice, he said, his plane had to return to the gate for refueling.
He then got off and went home because he would have never made it to his meeting.
"It was a debacle," Klugman said.
Pat Smith, a spokeswoman from Hopkins, did not acknowledge long delays. She said some delays resulted from a single de-icing truck breaking down. She referred all other questions to the airlines.
Marilee McInnis of Southwest Airlines blamed "a bit of a learning curve" for the delays. Mary Clark, a spokeswoman for Continental reported mechanical problems with the de-icing, but could provide no details.
Last week, airport director Ricky Smith appeared before a City Council committee for approval to pay an extra $456,000 for a redesign of the system that was completed this fall.
Smith, who took over the airport in June, at first said the redesign was needed to fix mistakes.
He later said the adjustments were requested by the airport to allow trucks to de-ice planes more efficiently.
The committee did not approve the payment and asked the director to return with more information before it could make a decision.
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