Two Commercial-Aviation Airports Remain Closed After Hurricane

Many airports shuttered by Katrina were up and operating on Tuesday, but New Orleans Int'l Airport and Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi remain closed.


SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- Many of the airports shuttered by Hurricane Katrina were back up and operating on Tuesday, one day after the storm tore through the Gulf Coast, but New Orleans' biggest airport remained closed due to flooding.

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, which had more than 850,000 passengers pass through it in June, had stopped commercial flights as of Sunday evening. The area is also under a 24-hour curfew.

Only one other commercial-aviation airport, Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi International, is still closed.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman John Clabes said that the agency is working on getting operations back up and running. "They're trying to get one runway open for emergency flights," he added.

However, because so much of the area is without reliable power and submerged, moving people is difficult. The FAA is still evaluating how Katrina affected other facilities in the region.

There are also flight restrictions up to 5,000 feet along the coast of Alabama and Mississippi, as well as around New Orleans, to keep the skies clear for relief operations, according to FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

Like with New Orleans' airport, reopening Gulfport-Biloxi's facilities is a key step in the region's rebuilding.

"It's a high priority for us to get back in and establish service at the airports so that relief aircraft can get back in," said Bergen.

For commercial carriers, cancellations were the norm and airlines were accommodating travelers who needed to change their plans.

"It's really going to create a mess in the midsection of the country," said Terry Trippler, analyst at CheapSeats.com, who added that bad weather will continue to affect operations in other parts of the country. "This has not been a good week for the airlines." Listen to the interview with Trippler.

AirTran AAI cancelled New Orleans and Gulfport-Biloxi flights through Thursday. See AirTran's list of cancelled flights.

JetBlue JBLU cancelled flights between New York and New Orleans on Tuesday as well as a flight set to leave New Orleans Wednesday morning. See JetBlue's list of cancelled flights.

American Airlines AMR said that it doesn't expect to fly into or out of New Orleans until the middle of Wednesday at the soonest.

Southwest Airlines LUV has cancelled flights through Wednesday to and from New Orleans, with the expectation that service will resume Thursday. Its air service to and from Jackson, Miss., also has stopped until Wednesday morning. See Southwest Airline's update on cancelled flights.

Southwest is the dominant carrier at New Orleans, according to Southwest spokeswoman Linda Rutherford. The airline flies 56 departures a day from the city. "It's a medium-sized operation for us," she said.

According to data from the airport, Southwest has about 30% of the market there.

High winds continued to cause delays in Atlanta, home to financially fragile Delta Air Lines DAL. The storm drove up oil and gasoline prices on Tuesday, raising further concerns about the airline's ability to handle even higher expenses. See full story.

The storm comes at the tail end of the busy summer travel season, which could tally up as the strongest since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks as low fares and a solid economy kept people flying. Airlines have so far reported extremely full flights at home and abroad, which means fewer empty seats to accommodate travelers.

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