Saturday, December 05, 2015

Fort Wayne International Airport (KFWA) tackles winter’s worst

About 2,000 people count on Fort Wayne International Airport to maintain operations no matter what the season, but those operations can be particularly difficult during the winter months. With 3 runways, each 150 feet wide and totaling up to nearly 4.5 miles in length, to maintain at FWA, it takes a crew that’s ready for “all hands-on-deck” at a moments notice.

During a snow event, the crew typically begins operations when just a quarter to a half an inch of snow accumulates on the pavement. They’ll measure the friction on the runway to determine what equipment they’ll use to treat the surface. Whether it’s snow or ice, MB5 is a go-to machine; it plows and sweeps. Fort Wayne International Airport has two of these $600,000 rigs. They’re expensive to run and maintain but the crews praise them for their efficiency and say they’ve revolutionized the way the airport tackles winter. Coming in at 50 feet long and carrying 24-foot-wide snow plows, these machines were built to take on winters’ worst. The crew says that visibility is the key for all maintenance operations, so it’s crucial that rigs like the MB5 and others have heated windshields and heated windshield wipers to prevent snow and ice from accumulating on the windshield.

The maintenance crew use more than just the MB5 to treat the runways, taxiways, and other roads at the airport. Sometimes, over 20 different pieces of equipment are being used at the same time. Each of these machines has enough fuel capacity to run for 12 hours without running out of fuel. Oftentimes, many machines will run for days at a time without ever being shut off.

Freezing rain and ice accumulation on surfaces are one of the most difficult things to tackle during the wintertime at FWA because it can happen quickly and is difficult to remove. But, unlike normal roads, maintenance staff at FWA cannot use salt to treat the runways. The FAA has forbidden salt at airports because it is very corrosive to jet engines. Instead, the airport possesses a liquid de-icer application truck, which sprays potassium acetate on the runway. According to Dave Falk, Head Mechanic, this truck is critical to winter operations at the airport:

It’s a product and a vehicle that must be ready at all times because we can go from good braking readings on the runway surface to absolute nil – plane diversions – inside of 5 minutes. I’ve seen it happen.
De-icing the aircraft is also important during the winter time. Currently, the airport has that operation subcontracted out to a third party. But in the future, that will become the responsibility of the airport, as well.

According to operations staff, if you’ve been delayed at FWA during the winter season, chances are that it wasn’t a problem with the runway here. Most of the delays and cancellations we see here in Fort Wayne come out of other major hubs like Chicago O’Hare or Detroit.

As we soar into winter, don’t forget about the countless hours of hard work that go into keeping the skies and runways open at Fort Wayne International Airport!

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