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Combined factors lead Southwest to cancel flights

Mon., April 5, 2010, 11:43 a.m.

Runway construction, lack of pilot certifications and weather preventing airline’s landings

Six Southwest Airlines flights into and out of Spokane International Airport this morning were canceled after a combination of poor visibility and construction forced the airline to not land in Spokane.

Construction started this morning on a 2,000-foot extension to the main runway at the southwest end of the airport.

Air traffic is being diverted to the airport’s cross-wind runway during the construction, which will last until October, said Todd Woodard, spokesman for the airport.

He said that Southwest pilots had not yet been certified to land on the cross-wind runway during periods of low visibility. However, the airline is in the process of getting its pilots certified for the cross-wind approach, he said.

Brad Hawkins, a spokesman for Southwest, said the airline would have new techology available to pilots starting on Tuesday to allow for reduced-visibility landings on the cross-wind runway, and that pilots were still completing training on the system.

He said the twin circumstances that forced the cancellations were “very rare” and are not likely to be repeated. He said Southwest uses various types of technology to alert passengers to any possible cancellations in advance.

A combination of rain and snow was reported at the airport this morning with visibility below three miles.

Woodard said later flights today were not likely to be affected by the weather problem.

The $30 million runway extension project is being built by Acme Concrete Paving of Spokane. The job is being financed through a $4.50 passenger facility charge on airline tickets.

Southwest operates 15 flights into and out of Spokane daily.

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