Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Before flakes fly, KCVG crews make sure planes can fly: Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport puts snow removal crews through paces

HEBRON —The Winter Operations Team at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport was put through its paces Wednesday.

They practiced their snow response to be ready for any serious snowfall. Winter weather can cause safety concerns and can also cause delays and cancellations that can ripple across the country.

While crews practiced on the runway, Shannon Oldfield the Vice President of Maintenance for the airport explained why their mission is so critical. Pilots especially want frequent updates during winter weather.

“When the snow begins they’re very interested to know and understand how our field conditions are so they can relay that information internally to their pilot groups,” Oldfield said.

It takes some serious equipment to clear the runways. The airport has nine giant Vammas snow removal vehicles. Each costs about $600,000. Each has a plow 22 feet wide to push the snow, a spinning 18 foot brush to scrub away what’s left and giant blowers on the back blast every last speck of snow.

They are followed down the runway by de-icing trucks that spray expensive chemicals like potassium acetate and sodium formate. The airport can’t use traditional road salt because it’s corrosive to the aircraft.

They do use cheaper and more low-tech sand to provide additional traction for incoming aircraft as well.
The vehicles can clear a two mile-long runway that’s as wide as a dozen lanes of highway in 15 minutes.
“We have a limited amount of time once we get on a runway, so we want to make sure that we move as efficiently as possible and remove the snow and ice as quickly as possible,” Oldfield said.

 When the goal is to safely land a plane that’s coming in at high speed, loaded with a couple hundred people, any snow and ice can be a serious problem.

 Oldfield says the operations team tries to get the runways in pristine shape.

“We try to achieve that, but we like to at least maintain a minimum level of very good,” Oldfield said.

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