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Sticky situation cancels local flight

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

The tire of a United Express jet picked up a layer of sealant and runway Thursday afternoon when it ran over a taxiway being patched at the Durango-La Plata County Airport.

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

A United Express regional jet landing in Durango on Thursday afternoon ran through a sticky taxiway sealant that caused the return flight to be canceled.

Durango-La Plata County Airport maintenance workers were sealing cracks in the runway before the flight arrived from Denver. Ron Dent, director of aviation at the airport, was surprised that the sealant was wet enough to stick to the tire. It usually dries in 15 to 20 minutes, he said.

The outer tire on the left side of the landing gear rolled along a seam of rubber sealant used to patch cracks in the taxiway, Dent said.

The tire became coated with a layer of sealant and taxiway surface material.

Airport maintenance workers volunteered to clean the tire, Dent said on Friday. Their services were refused.

The plane was grounded after a pilot sent a cellphone photo showing the tire to the ExpressJet center in Houston. ExpressJet Airlines operates as United Express, Continental Express and Delta Connection, depending on the region.

A special flight brought a mechanic to Durango from Houston with a new tire, which was replaced Friday.

“We were surprised,” Dent said. “But if pilots have any doubts, they will err on the side of safety.”

A spokeswoman for ExpressJet Airlines confirmed the assessment.

“I assume the decision was for the safety of passengers,” Allison Curtin said Friday from Atlanta.

Curtin said no one else was available to comment, given the late hour and upcoming holiday.

The flight Thursday entered the taxiway from the lane farthest from the terminal building.

The 9,200-foot taxiway runs parallel to the runway of the same length, 400 feet away. Connecting lanes allow pilots to reach the taxiway at nine points.

The cancellation of the return flight to Denver, scheduled for 3:35 p.m., inconvenienced a number of passengers, Dent said.

“It was a definite issue,” Dent said.

The 3:35 p.m. flight and the last departure at 5:26 p.m. were full.

Flights also arrive in Durango from Denver at 9:51 p.m. and 11 p.m., but there are no corresponding return flights.

Dent didn’t know if Frontier Airlines, which also flies between Durango and Denver, was able to absorb any of the overflow.

daler@durangoherald.com

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