Ploughing ahead

posted on 9th December 2021
Ploughing ahead

Innovation in snow clearance equipment continues, with Scandinavian airports leading the charge, as Megan Ramsay reports

Covid-19 has caused huge problems for the aviation industry around the world, with the countermeasures implemented in response to the virus resulting in a total breakdown in international air traffic. Without passengers to fill them, flights dwindled to a fraction of their normal number, and the industry suffered a massive hit to income – and, therefore, so did investment in new equipment.
Although cargo operations continued and even increased, meaning that snow clearance and other winter procedures were still required at many airports, manufacturers and suppliers of snow clearance units nonetheless felt the impact of Covid-19, too.
Says Mille Øveraasen, marketing manager at Norwegian snow removal equipment manufacturer Øveraasen: “Orders were cancelled, tenders were cancelled or put on hold, and there was also a lack of new orders.”
Plus, the pandemic has created an environment in which there can be dramatically longer and possibly unpredictable delivery times for important materials or components, alongside significant increases in prices for materials and parts.
Nevertheless, at Øveraasen, despite the various restrictions and a reduction in the workforce of approximately 15 people, production continued. Indeed, Mille Øveraasen points out: “Some larger contracts have been signed since the beginning of 2021 and activities are almost back to a normal level. We are very positive in respect to the future of the company.”
Øveraasen has won two major contracts for autonomous airport snow clearing equipment this year. These are for Stockholm Arlanda Airport in Sweden from the autumn of 2021, and Oslo Gardermoen Airport in Norway from mid-winter 2021/2022.
Swedavia press officer Peter Wärring says: “We are surely stepping into the future at a fast pace, when we can call on our autonomous snow clearing vehicles for the coming winter. Recently, we have had new vehicles delivered and work is underway with the supplier to ensure autonomous driving.
“Our ambition is that we can achieve full autonomy in the winter season 2021-22. These additions to our snow clearance fleet are a logical, positive step for Swedavia and will help us in cutting operational costs and make Swedavia’s snow clearance more efficient, less time consuming and more climate friendly.”
The contract signed with Øveraasen last year will see 20 RS 400 Performance Line runway sweepers delivered to Arlanda in time for the 2021-22 winter season.
The machines are the latest iteration of the proven RS 400 PL, equipped with the technology to enable autonomous operation. That technology has been developed by Yeti Move, a consortium comprising Semcon, Husqvarna and Øveraasen.
Swedavia says its “leading position in respect to autonomous vehicles” will have a positive effect on operational costs at Arlanda as well as improving the quality of snow clearance operations.
In addition: “The focus on the environment is a priority for both Swedavia and Øveraasen and the goal is to minimise the quantity of chemical used for de-icing,” the airport operator says, adding: “The RS 400 PL for Swedavia is capable of ploughing, sweeping, blowing and spraying at the same time. This is new on the world market for this size snow clearing machines.”
The RS 400 PL sweeper has a ploughing width of 7.3m, a sweeping width of 6.1m and a spraying width of 16m. Its chemical tank can hold 3,700l and the total weight of the machine is 30 tonnes.
The angle of the plough is automatically adjusted to maintain its full working width while driving in curves. For summer training, the support wheels are lowered hydraulically to avoid wearing out the plough’s cutting edges.
Øveraasen Sverige, the Swedish subsidiary of Øveraasen, will service and maintain the units after delivery.
Swedavia has also taken delivery of five Øveraasen Runway Light Ploughs and eight chemical sprayers and spreaders, to be deployed at various airports across its portfolio.
In Norway, airport operator Avinor is taking similar steps in its commitment to autonomous runway operations. Its €40 million (US$46 million) contract with Øveraasen will extend for eight years and encompasses the purchase of runway sweepers – including autonomous vehicles – for use at Avinor’s airports, as well as ongoing maintenance.
“We want to be in the driving seat when it comes to new ways of thinking and innovation,” says Avinor CEO Abraham Foss. “With this procurement, Avinor is taking a step into winter operations of the future in which autonomous runway sweepers are part of the solution. We are among the first in the world to put a concept like this into operation, and it will enable us to fulfil our goal of being a leader in terms of winter operations over the coming years.
“Ten years ago, the concept of driverless snow ploughs was nothing more than an idea on paper. This is why it is so gratifying to see that the technology is already sufficiently mature for it to be deployed in regular operations.”
The use of autonomous equipment for snow clearance is expected to deliver benefits in terms of efficient, punctual and reliable operations that will contribute both to a positive passenger experience and cost savings for airlines.
The capacity and clearing range of the new units will enable a reduction in the number of snow ploughs operating, thus benefiting the environment. Greater precision in snow removal operations and less wear and tear on equipment will also play a role in this respect, Avinor believes.
“In the long term, the intention is that the platform for autonomous operations can enable automation of other tasks and services in the airport area. This may include grass cutting, line painting on the apron as well as sweeping,” the airport operator says.

Multifunctional
The global snow clearance vehicle fleet is changing. Customers are calling for equipment that can be used all year round, with different attachments for different purposes.
A spokesperson from Austrian winter service equipment manufacturer Kahlbacher explains: “Standard carrier vehicles in combination with attachments like snow ploughs, snow sweepers, de-icers and snow cutter blowers can be used for all kind of winter service tasks, as well as for other tasks – like mowing or transportation – throughout the rest of the year.”
Wärring confirms that Swedavia uses all of its vehicles year-round, except for the TV1000 large snow thrower and the piste machine/snow groomer. While ploughs, formate/sand spreaders and snow throwers are only used in winter, sweepers are used to clear runways and taxiways in summer.
The aim of such an approach is to have an efficient number of vehicles, to keep maintenance costs as low as possible and to optimise vehicle fleet utilisation, the Kahlbacher spokesperson observes. “With the right attachments, winter service is not only getting more efficient, but will also be strengthened.”
Kahlbacher, as a specialist in snow clearing equipment, has numerous attachment solutions in its product range. One of these is the SPS 530, a towed-behind Snow Power Sweeper driven by a standard carrier vehicle.
The company also offers its KFS series of attachment snow cutter blowers for carrier vehicles with more than 500hp; snow ploughs with discharge stops that collect unwanted snow heaps and deposit them elsewhere; and the G2 with power loader and high-speed blower – one vehicle for two applications.
The G2 high-speed blower has an open blower design with direct snow intake for maximum clearing speed; a patented cutting and transport system that allows optimum filling of the impeller; optimised impeller design for high performance; and stepless and independent speed adjustment of the blower wheel and feeding augers.
On the power loader, meanwhile, the impeller and auger speed are perfectly attuned to each other to ensure maximum efficiency; the snow cutter blower and chute are designed for precise snow loading; there is direct ejection on both sides with infinitely variable adjustment of throwing distance and angle; and a camera system and headlights allow an optimum overview of loading operations.
Among Kahlbacher deliveries in recent times is Cologne Bonn Airport’s addition of a snow blower in 2019 (alongside 12 Aebi Schmidt snow ploughs), and the acquisition by Luxembourg’s Air Navigation Administration of a new snow plough in 2020.

Innovation
Considering the reasons for the continuing development of snow clearance technology, and the way that Scandinavian companies have worked together on projects such as Yeti Move, Avinor press spokesperson Erik Lodding says simply: “The harsh Scandinavian climate pushes innovation. Avinor, the national airport operator in Norway, dedicates significant resources to optimise current operational concepts, at the same time as we look for new innovations. Technology, sustainability and cost-effective solutions are three key drivers for innovation at Avinor.”
Elsewhere in the region, there is a constant will and drive among those within Swedavia, for instance, who work in snow clearance to keep developing and improving. Wärring says: “As such, innovation is necessary for us to ensure that we are able to offer a product that is of high quality, efficient, safe and at the same time has a long-term sustainability – economically, socially and environmentally.
“Swedavia and Sweden are definitively at the forefront of snow clearance and innovation,” he goes on. “Since Stockholm Arlanda Airport opened in 1962, we have never had to close because of heavy snowfall or icing. That is a record that we are very proud of. But this can only be maintained through our magnificent staff, and we invest heavily in our staff training to be able to handle bad weather as well as having very good equipment for dealing with snow clearance.”
Naturally, strict procedures, routines and the ability to practise in realistic and difficult weather conditions all help too.
Wärring continues: “Before Covid, we had more contact with, above all, Norway and Finland, and we know that they too are also far ahead in terms of snow clearance methodology and innovation.
“In addition, Swedavia’s vision encourages us to be a leader among airports and government operations regarding innovation. During the past five years we have for instance invested almost SEK650 million [US$76 million] in our new fossil-free fleet, which includes using larger and more effective snow clearing vehicles that run on biogas.”
Early adopters of autonomous or otherwise innovative snow clearance equipment (and other GSE) pave the way for the diffusion of such technology as others perceive the value of innovative approaches.
Thor Arve Øveraasen, CEO of Øveraasen, observes: “Technological development is constantly moving forward… Many airports around the world are following closely what is happening at Avinor and are eager to participate in this exciting journey in future.”
Innovation can be considered a critical factor in the economic growth and prosperity of any country. That said, the most innovative countries tend also to be the wealthiest ones. This reflects Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Mille Øveraasen says. With an education system that encourages independent, creative thinking, alongside a wealthy economy that ensures basic needs such as job security, food and shelter are met, Sweden is among those fortunate countries that are well placed to devote time, energy and money towards problem-solving and innovation.
As for the shift towards a greener economy, once again Scandinavian countries have been in the vanguard for some time now, with environmental concerns embedded in their politics and culture. Sweden, for instance, implemented a carbon tax as early as 1991, while almost all of Norway’s electricity comes from renewable sources, and across the region there is an emphasis on connecting with one’s natural surroundings.
Swedavia is playing its part too, Wärring says. “To make sure that our snow clearing at Stockholm Arlanda Airport is effective, safe, climate friendly and quick, we have the latest technology available to meet our high demands and standards. One of our objectives was reached last year, when our machinery fleet became completely fossil free.”
Not one to be left behind, Øveraasen offers what it calls a ‘midlife upgrade’ for its equipment in order to improve environmental performance and reduce the need for near-term investment.
According to Mille Øveraasen: “We replace and upgrade non-sustainable components, engines and control systems. Upgrading is not only a cheaper, but it is also a more sustainable solution.”
Once a machine is fully upgraded (Step I), it is possible to introduce automated and autonomous operations through Yeti Move (Step II).