Snow fells Dulles Jet Center hangars

 - February 22, 2010, 8:12 AM

While heavy snowfall early last month limited aircraft operations at airports up and down the U.S. eastern seaboard, the Washington, D.C.-area airports were the hardest hit. Reagan National Airport recorded 17.8 inches of snow on February 5 and 6, while outlying areas saw more than two feet. Manassas (Va.) Regional Airport reported more than 30 inches and Dulles International, about 26 miles from downtown D.C. and just north of Manassas, received 32.4 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

The event was dubbed “Snowmageddon” and closed all non-essential government offices in D.C. during the week of February 8. After another significant storm that week, almost 50 inches of snow had fallen in the region over the span of just a week.

Most FBOs in the D.C. area–as well as those along the East Coast–had to contend with plowing ramps and reduced ramp space. It’s a nuisance, but one that is to be expected this time of year–in other words, business as usual.

But not so for Dulles Jet Center, which is now closed after three of its four 40,000-sq-ft hangars collapsed from the weight of the snow on the morning of February 6. Hangar A succumbed at about 8 a.m., while hangars B and C gave way at about 11 a.m. Hangar D, which reportedly housed General Dynamics’ corporate fleet, suffered some damage but did not collapse and the aircraft inside were not damaged.

No Dulles Jet Center personnel were injured in the mishap, but 14 business jets–Gulfstreams, Bombardier Globals and Dassault Falcons–were crushed by structural beams. According to industry sources, all of the damaged aircraft are write-offs, with damages for the jets estimated at more than $300 million.

Nathan Landow, who owns the facility along with his sons David and Michael, told AIN that Dulles Jet Center has “more than adequate” insurance to cover the jet and facility damages. At press time, he wasn’t able to put a dollar figure on the damage to just the facility, but when the 160,000-sq-ft hangar complex opened in late 2006 it was estimated to have cost $60 million to build. Landow was also unable to estimate the amount of aircraft damage.

At press time, it was unknown whether the structural design itself was faulty or if there were any defects in the hangars’ specially built steel I-beams. During the December 2006 grand opening, Landow pointed out that the hangar interiors had no cantilever beams near the ceiling. “A straight column gives more rentable floor space,” he said at the time. Undoubtedly, these beams’ design and construction will be scrutinized in the aftermath.

According to Accuweather, snowdrifts also caused uneven snow loading, which could explain why not all of the FBO’s four hangars collapsed. The weather firm also said that 32.4 inches of snow exerts the weight of 3.55 inches of standing water.

Meanwhile, the Landows plan to rebuild and reopen. “We are currently closed for all business [hangar and ramp] while repairs are made to Hangar D and the Flight Services Building [terminal building],” David Landow told AIN. “We will reopen in phases, but there is no estimate yet on when that will start to occur.”