Irma could be a US aviation hub disaster

September 06, 2017
Hurricane Irma airlines impact
A satellite image of Hurricane Irma. Source: NOAA

While it’s impossible at this point to tally the numbers, Irma—unlike Hurricane Harvey—has the   potential to impact flight operations at several major hubs for a slew of airlines.

Harvey  shut down Bush Houston Intercontinental, a major United hub, for days. Ditto Houston Hobby, a critical focus airport for Southwest.

Irma could be much worse.

The latest information from the U.S. National Hurricane Center projects the Category 5, 185-mile per hour juggernaut turning right and tracking up the Florida peninsula.

Read: Airlines reschedule flights, issue waivers.

In ascending order, from South to North that puts Miami International Airport in the storm’s potential path.

MIA is American Airlines’ fifth largest hub, and the carrier’s prime launch pad for flights to Latin American and the Caribbean.

Latest available figures show American fielded 117,162 annual flights from the airport in 2015.

Thirty miles up the East Coast from Miami lies Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International, virtually a seaside airfield. FLL’s major players are Southwest, JetBlue and Spirit. Southwest has already cancelled flights to San Juan, Puerto Rico; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Nassau, The Bahamas and Havana, Cuba.

Further up the peninsula is Orlando, where Delta and JetBlue hold sway. Presstime projections have Irma packing hurricane force winds as far inland an Orlando, located in central Florida.

It’s not inconceivable that flight operations could be halted in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.

Irma’s Florida landfall could some this Sunday.

When Irma devolves into a strong tropical storm over land, the questions becomes: Will she proceed more or less north by northwest or track up the eastern coast of Florida, Georgia and he Carolinas?

If it’s the former, she could impact operations at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, the planet’s busiest airport—and Delta’s megahub, from which the airline operates more than 1,000 departures per day to 217 destinations.

If Irma follow the latter route, up the East Coast, it’s possible she could pose problems for Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. CLT is American’s second-largest hub, with 231,591 annual departures according to latest available figures.

One thing’s for certain at this juncture: Hurricane Irma’s impact isn’t going to be confined to the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean