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At Scottsbluff airport, proper fire equipment kicks safety up, appealing to airlines

November 22, 2017 GMT

SCOTTSBLUFF — An airport is more than the planes fly in and out of them. Behind the scenes, there is always action, including fire trucks, which provide safety as well as the ability to expand airport services.

Airport Director Darwin Skelton recently attended a four-state FAA conference in Kansas City to discuss the state of airports and federal regulations. Right after the state meeting, Skelton attended Scottsbluff’s 139 meeting. The meeting discussed regional airports’ 139 certificates, which establish requirements for airports to operate.

“The people who put that (the conference) on come out here and decided whether or not we keep the 139 certificate,” he said.

The 139 inspection involves extensive inspections of all aspects of an airport, including the issue of fire safety.

A few years ago, the FAA determined airports the size of Scottsbluff did not need the larger, 1,500-gallon fire trucks anymore. FAA officials were going to force the airport to use a 500-gallon truck instead.

“That concerned us because of the diversions and casino charters,” said Darwin Skelton, airport director. “We disagreed with that terribly because 500 gallons is not going to do the trick if you get a fire.”

The airport was given the opportunity to file for a waiver. In the four-state region of Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska, several airports filed, but Scottsbluff was the only one approved.

“That all comes back to show how much diversion means,” he said.

A diversion, where an airplane makes an unscheduled landing, occurs for a variety of reasons, including an emergency landing, unexpected weather change, a need to take on more fuel or deicing. During the summer of 2017, there were nine diversion in one day due to storms at other airports. Seven of those were United planes.

Diversions continue to increase at the airport and airport officials know having all the proper equipment means the difference between an airline choosing Scottsbluff or using another airport. The airport fire truck, and what it can do, plays a large role in whether or not an airline chooses to make a diversion into Scottsbluff.

The airport has also had visits from United Airlines earlier this fall and other airlines, including Jet Blue, have inquired about setting up or increasing their the number of diversions they have in Scottsbluff.

Skelton said Scottsbluff’s name is getting out there and things are being said about the service they provide.

“They can get in and out easily. It’s not complicated. They can get fuel,” he said. “That’s why you are seeing more diversions because we can provide what they need.”

The airport fire trucks also assist through interlocal agreements to help in the community when the situation arises.

“We have a much greater capability putting foam down and we can smother an oil fire pretty quickly,” Skelton said.

The airport is scheduled to get a new truck to replace its current 2004 fire truck. That truck can handle Purple-K, a dry-chemical fire suppression agent, but if that truck “goes down,” the airport is required to get something else in place within 48 hours or close down commercial service. The airport’s solution was to purchase a 400-gallon skid unit that can be placed in the bed of a pickup truck.

An engineering agreement is currently being worked out and the new truck, which will have many new advanced features, will be ordered in 2018 and arrive in 2019. Until then, the airport will keep using the 2004 truck. When the new truck arrives, it will continue to be used for other front line duties.

“Those diversions were the biggest key to getting that fire truck,” he said.

The airport has another truck that is used for grass fires and oil fires. Once the new truck arrives, the airport will have four fire trucks. Two can handle the Purple-K in addition to the skid. With the increase in diversions and the truck availability, the airport could move up to a Class D airport, which is in Denver’s range.

“We won’t push that with them (the FAA),” Skelton said. “But we will be a class A that has the capability to run as a class D as needed.”