GANDER, NL – The maintenance crew at Gander International Airport springs into action as fresh snow falls on the tarmac.
The crew plays a critical role to ensure runways and surrounding areas are clear of snow for airplanes to safely land and take off.
The control tower instructs three “sweeper” machines to clear runway 13/31. Wind direction is a determining factor for which runway will remain active,
according to maintenance crew member Scott Penney.
“Planes like to land against the wind,” said Penney.
On days with heavy snowfall, the crew works hard to keep one runway open.
“We like to keep it at the 60-foot centreline or at 120 if the weather permits,” said Penny, referring to the width of the runway to be kept clear of snow.
“Sixty or 120 is what most aircrafts would land on.”
The cleaning operation is tightly controlled. The whereabouts of each cleaning machine is continuously relayed to three lines of communication: maintenance crew, fire hall/offices in the airport and the control tower.
Communication is vital to snow-clearing operations. The maintenance crew asks the control tower for permission to enter and exit cleaning areas such as taxiways and runways. The tower then informs the crew of in-bound and out-bound airplanes, and how much time they have to clear the areas, in addition to other special requirements.
The ability to multi-task and maintain constant awareness is critical – there are plenty of things to keep track on the job, said Penney.
“The job comes with a lot of training, and you are always listening to the radio, watching your surroundings for lights and signs, and (noting) how much time you have on the runway.”
As the weather changes from snowfall to ice pellets, the field foreman is on the lookout for ice patches and other factors that may compromise the safety of airplanes landing or taking off.
Field foreman Joey Hunt generates a report that is passed on to the tower and relayed to pilots.
A special requirement called the Canadian Runway Friction Index (CRFI) may be requested by a pilot in the event of freezing rain or ice. The field foreman generates the CRFI report on a device in his vehicle.
According to Penney, the vehicle does 11 hard brakes each way on the runway to obtain a measurement.
“It is really hard on the truck when a CRFI is performed, and a lot of aircraft will call for a CRFI when there is freezing rain or ice when landing,” said Hunt.
A lot of work takes place in the background to keep airplanes coming and going at the airport.
“The more planes, the better for us,” Penney said. “It is an achievement for us when the planes get in.”
Since starting work in maintenance three years ago, Penney said the airport has not closed even in a severe snowstorm, an achievement he proclaims proudly.
Video of this story can be found at: https://youtu.be/dRRSby2eU8o