A report from Maximize Market Research (MMR) estimates the value of the global airport snow removal equipment market in 2021 to have been US$2.73 billion and predicts that it will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.7% up to the year 2027. Suppliers and their customers are working hard to improve winter operations airside
Innovative snow clearance technologies include Boschung’s Ice Early Warning System that predicts the future of runway conditions, and Yeti Move’s autonomous snowploughs that have been supplied to Stockholm and Oslo airports.
Norway-based Yeti Move has also been running a pilot project with Telenor that uses a 5G communications solution for autonomous vehicles.
Also in Norway, snow removal systems manufacturer Øveraasen has been developing its own new products. Says CEO and managing director Thor Øveraasen: “Before New Year 2021, the very first RS 600 Performance Line left the factory in Gjøvik. By the end of September 2022 the last machine among the 12 units which were ordered was delivered to Oslo Airport.”
The capacity of the RS 600 Performance Line is approximately 50% higher than conventional snow sweepers, making snow clearance more efficient, reducing costs and cutting down emissions. Just four machines of this size can clear a 3,500m runway in less than eight minutes. In addition, the machines are designed for autonomous operation. All 12 units at Oslo Airport will operate autonomously during the winter of 2022-23.
The RS 600 measures over 25m from the plough to the end of the sweeper unit. The plough itself is more than 10m wide, while the brush has a clearing width of 7.5m. The working speed of this machine is also significantly higher than any other on the market, Thor Øveraasen declares.
“The fact that runway sweepers are becoming autonomous means that both the vehicles and sweepers are fully automatically controlled. No drivers or operators!” he says.
The autonomous control system is delivered by Yeti Move. The company was founded seven years ago and Thor Øveraasen describes it as occupying the dominant position in respect to autonomy at airports.
Another recent development at Øveraasen is its RS 200 Performance Line ’Canuck’: a compact version of the RS 200. The Canuck is to be used in combination with any type of towing vehicle such as tractors, smaller trucks or wheel loaders. A modular snow sweeper, it is designed especially for smaller airports that require multifunctional equipment.
The RS 200 Canuck has been designed from the same modules as the RS 200 Performance Line, using the latest developments in engine technology, hydraulics and electronics – making the Canuck a sustainable alternative for the future, Thor Øveraasen says.
He goes on: “The high working speed, together with the cleaning width of 4m, gives the machine an astonishing cleaning capacity per hour. Several units have already been ordered and [are] successfully in operation in the North American market.”
The machine’s name – Canuck – is a slang term for a Canadian person.
North America accounted for 57% of the snow removal market in 2021, according to MMR. Besides being home to a huge network of airports, the region also experiences heavy winter snowfall and ice deposits that must be melted regularly.
“Overall we take care of about 5,000 acres, including 3,400 acres inside the fence at MSP as well as roads outside, plus six reliever airports,” says Sara Freese, director of maintenance services and asset management at Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), referring to Airlake, Anoka County-Blaine, Crystal, Flying Cloud, Lake Elmo and St Paul Downtown airports that MAC owns and operates besides its main gateway, Minneapolis-Saint Paul International (MSP).
As is the case elsewhere in the GSE arena, electrification of winter fleets is a growing trend as the sector aims to reduce emissions. MAC is pursuing this development, in line with its target to reduce total emissions by 80% from a 2014/15 baseline.
“We are working with manufacturers to see where we can find opportunities for our winter fleet to meet the 2030 goal,” says Freese. “We have partnered with a local utility company to study our equipment and see what makes sense in terms of electrification. Of our 600 pieces of GSE overall, we’ve identified a sample of 100 units to start studying in mid-November.”
MAC has over 250 pieces of winter operations equipment, including multifunctional units, snowploughs, brooms and blowers, de-icers and a runway light de-icing machine. It has plans to invest in its winter fleet during the next fiscal year.
At Canada’s Toronto Pearson Airport, Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) is focusing on technology as traffic recovers in the wake of the Covid pandemic and the airport looks to the future.
Tori Gass, senior communications advisor at GTAA, says: “We are closely reviewing how we can amalgamate existing data from our vehicles, ground radar, multilateration, Airport Collaborative Decision Making (ACDM), weather forecasting, Visual Docking Guidance System (VGDS), inspection reports, de-icing throughput and other key sources to provide a complete dashboard to the operations team. The ‘hubbing’ of this data will mean we can make better decisions about snow removal tactics and ultimately provide safer surfaces for aircraft and ground handlers.”
Last season’s snowfall accumulation at Toronto was 129.2cm. The gateway has more than 160 operators and direct support employees, as well as 48 seasonal operators. Its snow removal fleet consists of 35 ploughs/sweepers/blowers, 12 high-speed snow blowers, 10 chemical trucks and 20 units of small snow removal equipment; Vammas PSB & ST/SB vehicles are the most common types of machinery in the fleet.
For both Toronto and Minneapolis, the main challenge this winter relates to the supply chain for both new vehicles and replacement parts. MAC is planning further ahead than ever before so as to stay ahead of the curve, Freese says.
Another change at GTAA is the full adoption of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Global Reporting Format. This is “an assessment method and reporting format for runway surface conditions developed by ICAO to help provide consistent information to air crews”, Gass informs. “It impacts how we report runway conditions and how quickly we need to respond to pilot reports and changing conditions.”
Launched in June 2020, Boschung’s ATLAS automated system fulfils ICAO’s GRF requirements for runway condition reporting.
A statement at the time of the launch said: “Taking advantages of new sensors like the pavement sensors IT-RWY for runway condition detection and r-snow for snow depth measurement and snow type detection, ATLAS provide the runway condition codes, as well as the contaminant type, depth, and coverage with an unequalled accuracy and without the need for runway closure.
“With twenty-four-seven availability, the system is modular and scalable so that it can be adapted to all kinds of airports in all climate regions.”
Back at MAC, “We’re looking at different weather forecasting and models to shed more light on what happens here in our area,” Freese reveals, noting that there have been some anomalies of late.
“The weather pattern for the last few winters has been drier than normal but a lot colder; we’re seeing more snow events where the ambient temperature is around 32°F. Heavier, wet snow tends to turn to rain, but now we’re getting a dramatic increase in icing.
“The long-term forecast suggests that this year could be a heavy hitter. On average we get about 54 inches [137cm] of snow in the metro area each year but this winter we could get another 20 inches [51cm] on top of that.”
The typical number of call-outs at MAC’s airports in the last five years has been between 25 and 30. How challenging that is to handle depends on how close together snow and ice events occur.
“If it all comes in six weeks, it’s more difficult for us to move all the snow, pre-treat for icing events and prepare for the next snowfall,” Freese explains. “In a good season, we get a few days’ break to clear up and move snow out of the way.”
Timing is key in this business. To clear Toronto Pearson’s runways, snow crews must arrange a time slot to use the runway in between arriving or departing aircraft.
“It is very challenging and requires intentional co-ordination of multiple stakeholders to ensure an efficient and effective outcome, and we deploy a dedicated team that ploughs and sweeps the snow to the runway’s edge,” Gass says.
“We work with all our key stakeholders to balance their needs against the need to provide snow-free surfaces. The co-ordination is early and often, as we meet pre-season and before, during and after every event to discuss tactics and any improvements we can make,” she adds.
On the subject of co-operation between the different teams involved in winter airside operations and the pooling of the equipment they use, Lars Barsøe, vice president sales and marketing at de-icing equipment specialist Vestergaard Company, considers: “On snowy days, de-icing crews de-ice aircraft just in time to use runways cleared by the snow removal crew, so there is a lot of cooperation going on.
“At airports with ACDM, this is all co-ordinated based on prior knowledge and time stamps,” he adds.
Once cleared, the snow at Toronto Pearson is melted. Due to limited space and a need to return all gates to full operation as quickly as possible, snow accumulating on the manoeuvring area is left to melt in the fields. Any snow that is exposed to the de-icing chemical glycol is melted at the airport’s Central Deicing Facility.
Runway de-icing uses relatively low quantities of potassium acetate, which has a negligible impact on the environment – although airports must still adhere to guidelines regarding any effluent. Glycol, on the other hand, can severely harm aquatic life; it is the base fluid for aircraft de-icing, which, naturally, often takes place concurrently with runway snow clearance and deicing.
Toronto Pearson’s Central Deicing Facility is the largest of its kind in the world and is capable of de-icing 500 aircraft in a single day. Crews use two types of deicing spray. Gass explains: “Type 1 is a mix of glycol and water and has a distinctive orange colour. This mixture breaks the bond between frost, ice or snow and the wings of the plane. It’s sprayed with force to knock the snow and ice off the plane.
“Type 4 is an anti-icing fluid that stops new ice or snow from sticking to the plane, especially when it’s still snowing. This fluid is bright green in colour.”
Each de-icing pad at the facility slopes from north to south, so that used glycol spray can run directly into drains connected to underground storage tanks.
These tanks have a combined volume of 15 million litres. Their contents are measured, tested and recycled for use in other markets to keep any glycol run-off from impacting the natural environment, Gass confirms. At Minneapolis, too, melters process any glycol-contaminated snow, and recovered glycol is shipped out for re-use.
Both de-icing and snow clearance staff receive training tailored to their particular functions and the equipment involved. While it can be possible for crews to cover some of each other’s tasks, Barsøe points out that these operations normally take place at the same time, so crews are generally occupied at their own work.
At any airport that experiences snow and ice events, he says: “It is important to have a comprehensive snow plan, so that everyone knows what is going on, and then it should be trained again and again with all parties of a winter operation. Then there are better chances that operations will run smoothly.”
At Toronto Pearson, for instance, training and exercising winter plans are the key to a ensuring its snow removal team is prepared and confident.
“We bring our seasonal staff in to start training in September and start exercising our equipment and practicing our plans in October,” Gass says. “This builds confidence and competence for when the snow falls. Our employees are the key to our success, with dedicated professionals that understand the impact their efforts have on the airport and the experience of the passengers.”
With travellers continuing to return to the skies in the wake of Covid, this is perhaps increasingly important. MAC’s traffic is currently averaging about 77% of pre-pandemic levels and the airport operator has brought in its additional rental fleet and taken on a full contingent of regular and seasonal workers; its total winter ops staff now numbers 170.
According to Freese: “Every fall [autumn], once we have all our staff (many of whom will be returning from previous winters), we deliver a weekend of training. This covers security, human resources, any medical exams, Part 139 snow and ice control (requirements set out in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations) and testing and training on the airfield. We also have a simulator that we sometimes use for driver training.”
As a result of its divisional reorganisation, MAC will be publicising new training in the fourth quarter, covering regulatory compliance and other topics. It will also create an interconnected operations centre based on the insights gained through the reorganisation.