The world’s airports have to ensure that their runways, taxiways and stands are free of ice and snow whatever the harshness of the winter weather. Delayed or cancelled operations is the alternative, one that no busy gateway wants to contemplate
The job of clearing runways, taxiways and parking stands at Frankfurt Airport, one of Europe’s busiest air gateways, is a challenging one. The German hub has 860,000 square metres of runway (of which the relatively new fourth runway accounts for 115,000 square metres) that must be kept clear of snow, 2.23 million square metres of taxiways and 4.25 million square metres of apron. If roadways, parking areas and all other paved areas are included, a total of 8.36 million square metres of paved area must be kept clear of snow and ice – either completely or to a large extent – by the airport operator.
The gateway’s flight operations extend between 05.00 and 23.00 and there is barely a minute to spare during this hectic schedule. Yet, 10cm of snowfall will require 114,000 tonnes of snow (or 6,000 truckloads) to be cleared from those paved surfaces.
Roland Schwarz, vice president of airport infrastructure – airport facilities and area services for airport operator Fraport points out that in addition to the sheer scale of the task in terms of the area to be cleared of snow, the nature of the precipitation is also critical. The northern German winter is relatively warm and the snow that falls tends to be wet and heavy. That makes the ploughing and blowing effort that much more difficult than in the case of the more powdery snow that falls in other locations.
Facing up to the mission during periods of snowfall is the extensive Fraport winter operations team, at the core of which are three shifts of snow clearance teams each numbering between 120 and 140 individuals (although there were actually a total of 1,373 people working across the Frankfurt winter operations effort for the 2014-15 season). Most of those individuals drafted in when required are not Fraport employees as such – they are mostly students, retired people, seasonal farm workers and others who are on call when the weather turns harsh.
Training these men and women – about half of whom will be new to the job each year – is essential, and Fraport has a seasonal budget of approximately 700,000 euros (US$790,000) set aside for just that purpose. The major part of that training will relate to readying them for driving the large vehicles – often as part of a co-ordinated clearing convoy – that many of them will be required to operate. The individuals involved need only have a standard driver’s licence, so getting them up to standard for handling huge ploughs, blowers and trucks is no small feat.
The fleet is not small. Fraport has 319 vehicles – owned or leased – it can call on for its winter operations. More than 60 are snow ploughs, almost 60 are tractor units with plough attachments, while 118 are large 3- and 4-axle dumper trucks used to transport snow to the snow pile built up in a 23,000 square metre area of apron in the south of the hub. That pile has reached as high as 23m on occasion, and it can be as late as August before the last of it is melted by the heat of the sun (untreated snow cannot be transported and disposed of off the airport because of its potential glycol contamination).
The Overaasen snow blowers and Mercedes trucks that make up the bulk of the airport’s snow clearance fleet offer great benefits of standardisation, keeping down associated training costs and logistical/spare parts requirements. However, Schwarz will be looking at other manufacturers for similarly effective vehicles in the future by means of competitive tendering processes, which might allow for further cost savings.
Another challenge concerns stockpiling sufficient de-icing fluid for the airport’s paved surfaces. Since assuming his winter operations role in 2010, Schwarz has carefully built up Frankfurt’s store of such fluid (this is just for paved areas, not for aircraft de-icing) either on- or just off-airport. The stored fluid is kept in motion, to ensure that its constituent chemicals don’t separate and its effectiveness isn’t lost. It can certainly be kept for at least four or five years in such a state, he notes, without degradation.
Schwarz has also been keen to share best practices with other airport operators. For example, he represents Fraport on the Winter Service Group of German, Swiss and Austrian airport operators, who meet to discuss their winter operations and tactics. This group meets a couple of times a year, the last meeting having been held in Helsinki; the constituent airports of the group are Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Helsinki, London Heathrow, Munich, Oslo, Stockholm-Arlanda, Vienna and Zurich.
MEETING THE CHALLENGES
While the nature of on-airport snow clearance might not change too much year-to-year from a physical point of view, the operating environment certainly does change, and this can have a profound impact on manufacturers of snow clearance equipment.
One of the biggest changes in this regard can be an ever-evolving regulatory environment caused by increasing environmental pressures. For example, the need to produce ever-cleaner equipment in terms of emissions has put a major burden on manufacturers of blowers, ploughs and smaller snow clearance equipment.
The requirement to move to Tier 4 engine emission standards means that some equipment has to be redesigned to accommodate larger, cleaner engine technology, notes Adrian Jezzone, sales manager, airport equipment, for Switzerland-based Zaugg AG Eggiwil. The company’s engineers are attempting to meet the challenge now, but the changes cost money – and those costs will almost certainly be passed on to the customer in the form of higher prices. Moreover, the costs can be significant in terms of the unit numbers involved.
Away from that challenge, the company’s research and development effort is constant, Jezzone says, Zaugg is always looking to offer its customers a competitive edge. In terms of the lower spec nature of snow sweepers, that can be difficult to achieve, but Zaugg is especially proud of its more specialised, high-tech blowers that have to work in all markets – whatever the type of snow (and that can differ markedly according to the prevailing regional climate, or even just to the time of day or period of a winter season).
MEETING THE CHALLENGE IN HUNGARY
Eastern Europe can face some pretty ferocious winters, and low temperatures combined with frequent and heavy snowfalls can threaten the region’s airport operations. Budapest International Airport in the Hungarian capital has approximately 2.4 million square metres of apron to clear; in addition to runways, taxiways and stands this includes parking areas, maintenance apron, the engine testing area and service roads.
“We have to prepare our snow team before every season to manage heavy snowfalls,” says Zoltán Ormándi, head of airside management at the gateway’s operator, Budapest Airport Zrt.
“Normally the winter season starts around mid-November and we are on standby until the middle of March. The average annual days of snowfall is around 25 to 30, and the average snow depth is between 8 and 12cm,” he explains. Historical data shows that heavy snowfall is typically experienced at the airport between temperatures of 0°C and -5°C. At night, the temperature only rarely goes below -10°C.
“The aeronautical meteorology service provides the most accurate weather forecasts in the country, and its weather experts are able to predict snowfall one or two hours in advance. That is time enough for the clearance team to start salt-spreading to melt the imminently expected snow,” Ormándi says.
A priority system is used to decide the order of clearance of the gateway’s runways, taxiways, aprons and stands, as decided by the duty airside manager in co-ordination with the weather experts.
Leading the way on runway and taxiway clearing is the airport’s runway team, equipped with five Boschung Jetbroom-T sweepers and an Oshkosh blower working in collaboration. At the same time, between three and five sweepers clear apron areas and aircraft stand taxi lanes. Nido spreaders are also employed as and when necessary (Nido is a regional product brand of the ASH Group, of which Aebi Schmidt is perhaps the best-known brand).
Another challenge for the airport’s snow clearance team is to clear the passenger walkways that link the main terminal building and the boarding gates located on the apron close to aircraft stands.
Budapest Airport has what Ormándi describes as a “robust snow removal system”, boasting 35 heavy snow removal machines on continuous stand-by at the airport, ready for action not only on the airside areas but also to handle car parking zones and other landside areas.
An hour after any alert of incoming snow, well-trained vehicle operators and an even larger team of manual snow clearance workers are ready to work. More than 80 snow clearance unit drivers and 120 snow clearance workers are hired each winter, and the operators take a training course to prepare for the particular demands of winter driving. The vehicle drivers are sourced in the main from airport-based companies – from ground handlers, for example.
Supporting that runway team, with its Boschung JetBroom-T sweepers and one Oshkosh blower with 6,000 tonnes per hour clearing capacity, the apron snow clearance effort involves ten Schmidt Jetsweepers, and SUPRA 4000 blowers. They are supported by a UNIMOG Compact unit, with de-icing chemicals distributed from two Nido units and a number of other UNIMOG vehicles. Finally, assessing and reporting the ongoing effort is the duty airside manager in a new Skoda ASFT apron friction testing vehicle equipped with data-collecting sensors.
The airport authority intends to further modernise the apron sweeper fleet through the purchase of a new sweeper machine equipped with glycol-collecting capability, Ormándi confirms.
Supporting the snow clearance efforts of these and other airports are the manufacturers of the blowers, ploughs, anti-icing spreaders and multitude of other vehicle types vital to their work.
Aebi Schmidt is, says the company’s sales and marketing manager, Alison Conroy, constantly evolving its product range to take into account new environmental initiatives and redesigns of its range of de-icing and snow clearing equipment.
“Environmental impact, and in particular the recovery of de-icing media, is becoming more prevalent in our discussions and meetings,” Conroy explains. “Costs are also important, particularly of the de-icing media, and therefore the monitoring of usage and accuracy of application are paramount. Plus, the efficiency of the snow clearing equipment is also very important, maximum brush life being one area where costs can be minimised.
“Carbon-neutral targets are always in consideration for our new designs and development. New emission requirements also have to be taken into account,” she continues. Perhaps most notably of late, Aebi Schmidt has launched a new, environmentally friendly variant of its TJS sweeper – the Green TJS-C, which runs on biodiesel and gas. The TJS-C, or Towed Jet Sweeper (Compact), is designed for the rapid and effective clearance of runways, taxiways and aprons. High working speed and manoeuvrability are said to be the key assets of the unit. It comes equipped with a snow plough in the front, a broom in the middle and a powerful blower at the rear to ensure that snow, ice, slush and water on an apron are almost completely removed.
Aebi Schmidt worked in partnership with the Volvo Group and Swedavia, Sweden’s national airport operating authority, to develop the Green TJS-C, which is powered by Volvo engines fuelled by a mixture of biogas and biodiesel. The goal of the project was to considerably reduce the machine’s carbon footprint.
With the help of special software, it is possible to drive the engines with a biogas ratio of up to 85%, Conroy observes. The Green TJS-C can operate without refuelling for over six hours and, depending upon snow quantity and density, it can work at a speed of up to 50km/h. After several years of testing, Aebi Schmidt is now introducing this green equipment to the airport community.
New equipment designs from America’s Oshkosh, famous for a wide range of vehicles including military trucks and airport rescue and fire-fighting (ARFF) vehicles as well as snow clearance units designed specifically for the airport market, have also reflected the increasing pressures vis-à-vis environmental performance. Les Crook, snow products manager in the Airport Products Group of Oshkosh Corporation, explains: “New EPA regulations continue to propel changes by heavy-duty diesel engine manufacturers. And, to adapt, additional engineering work by snow removal equipment manufacturers, like Oshkosh Airport Products, is required. For example, in 2017 all off-highway and on-highway engines are required to meet the same emission standard, and all manufacturers will need to comply with this new stricter standard.”
Another of the priorities being considered by manufacturers of airport snow clearance vehicles is flexibility. Ireland-based supplier Multihog (of which more follows in the article after this feature) is an obvious example of the importance of this strategy, but other suppliers have also looked to offer the widest possible range of capabilities in single pieces of equipment. Oshkosh too, for example has placed multi-functionality at the heart of its ongoing strategies. Crook remarks: “Airports, like all other industries, continue to seek new avenues to improve performance and keep runways clear and safe. They, simultaneously, are developing strategies to maximise productivity of airport snow removal operations personnel. These requirements drive the need for more multi-function equipment.”
Oskosh’s R&D reflects this trend in the market. “The design and development of our multi-function Oshkosh HT Tractor and the XT Towed Broom is now complete and we have started to deliver new units to customers,” Crook says. “The multi-tasking HT system was designed with direct input from snow removal professionals; it features various combinations of a wide range of ploughs, underbody scrapers, material spreaders and tow-behind brooms to meet any airport’s unique challenges.”
Another priority for Oshkosh with regard to flexibility has been seen in the ways it has looked to expand its attachment offerings in terms of both ploughs and brooms. “Moreover, Oshkosh Airport Products continues to explore new markets that may require resizing current products larger or smaller,” Crook adds.
“As the world of on-board vehicle electronics and advanced controls continues to expand, there is a continuous flood of new technologies and customer options. Oshkosh Airport Products has the resources and in-house research and development expertise to explore new technologies that will improve the overall performance of our products, and to offer an expanded list of choices to support our customers around the globe,” he adds.
Away from its organic expansion, Aebi Schmidt is amongst the suppliers in this sector to have looked to grow their market footprint through acquisition. “Over recent years we have had unprecedented levels of success in Europe and Asia, and we have now acquired two companies in North America to further develop our business in this area,” Conroy notes. The two companies in question are the North American snow and ice management equipment manufacturers Meyer Products and Swenson Spreader, both of them formerly owned by the Ohio-based Louis Berkman Work Products Company and now part of Aebi Schmidt Holding (the ASH Group).
“In addition, we have acquired our own telematics company, which gives our customers the ability to manage their snow clearing and de-icing fleets, optimise their use of staff resources and de-icing media, and have clear traceability of all actions and treatments,” Conroy informs. “By monitoring the machines’ activity, it also enables maintenance sections to manage service intervals effectively.”
After-sales support is also an invaluable offering of many suppliers in this market. For instance: “Our Total Lifetime Care ethos runs through everything we do in supporting our customers, providing a consultative approach, working as both a prime contractor and partner to all the major airports,” Conroy observes.