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Vol. 17, No. 3, 2017

Preparing your airport for snow and ice


airplane flying

Winter is coming; it comes every year at about the same time, in fact! So having a plan and being prepared is essential to proper airport management. The airport’s maintenance staff should begin by developing a step-by-step document outlining how snow and ice control operations will happen. The plan should include timing, plowing methods and equipment, chemicals, application rates, contact information, procedures for closing runways and issuing NOTAMs, and staff assignments.

Many airports work with local city or county staff for snow removal. If that’s the case, include those maintenance staff in the planning: invite them to the airport to discuss snow removal and the airport’s plan before the weather changes. It’s especially important to discuss airport safety procedures, imaginary surfaces, radio operations, and NOTAM requirements. These often differ from standard roadway procedures and are not something everyone is familiar with.

A snow removal plan can be as informal as a one-page document with a bulleted list of important considerations and timeline components. It should outline proper equipment and materials to be used, assign movement area priorities, define responsibilities for both clearing and assessing runway conditions, identify the snow disposal site, and specify who can make decisions regarding snow placement. The plan should also state who is responsible for issuing any required NOTAMs. An effective snow removal plan reduces response time and maximizes the availability of runways and taxiways. Lastly, the plan should note how team members will be notified when a snow event occurs and establish a timetable for snow removal.

For additional guidance on preparing for snow removal season, see FAA Advisory Circular 150/5200-30A, Airport Winter Safety and Operations.

Before the snow season starts

  • Develop a snow removal plan.
  • Train all personnel (both airport and local maintenance staff who will be assisting) in equipment operations, communication techniques and terminology, radio use, marking, lighting, signs, and the airport layout.
  • Make practice runs with the equipment before allowing access to the movement areas. Practice during the summer when there are fewer distractions and when sightlines are best.
  • Plan for snow storage when developing airport improvement projects such as parking lots and aprons.
  • Specify in your leases the areas that will be cleared by the airport and those that will be cleared by each hangar tenant.

During a snow event

  • Make radios readily available to plow operators and educate operators on the required and proper radio communication procedures with pilots.
  • Instruct plow operators to give aircraft the right-of-way at all times.
  • Instruct plow operators to use truck lights and rotating beacons to improve visibility.

In training, remind staff that the visibility from inside their truck may be quite different than the visibility from the air or from a landing plane. Also remind them that snow removal operations such as plowing, sweeping, and snow blowing can reduce visibility to near zero in the immediate area. The noise level inside a snowplow may be very high, so train operators in using the radio effectively in non-optimal conditions.

Runway contaminants such as snow and ice can make the surface slippery. Remind operators to allow for additional stopping distance near planes and wings that extend far beyond the plane itself.

Communication is another important piece of winter preparations. Before the snow flies, meet with local pilots, hangar tenants, airport users, and fixed-based operators, as well as emergency aircraft operators such as medical helicopters that use the airport, to discuss their concerns. Cover the strategy for winter operations, address any lingering concerns from the previous winter season, and inform them of any limitations. In addition, make sure these users know where to find information, updates, and answers to their questions during winter events. Confirm that tenants know which areas of the airport they are required to keep clear of snow.

Removal strategies

Issue a NOTAM when more than an inch of snow will fall on the runway. Always check to make sure your NOTAMs are posted before plowing and removed when the event is over.

When closing a runway for plowing, keep it closed until plowing operations are complete. An aircraft attempting to land while plows are working creates a dangerous situation. When removing snow around lights, advise pilots and airport users that operators are on the airfield. If an aircraft is circling to land and the runway is usable, leave the runway while it lands and then resume work.

Remember to clear the sides and ends of the runway as part of the snow removal operation. Pilots need to see the runway lights from the air, and snow banks should be far enough back to provide plenty of wingtip clearance. Never pile snow off the ends of the runway; always push it to the sides, even beyond the runway ends.

It’s critical to plow around lights and NAVAIDs. Clear the sensors on the automated weather observing station and provide access to the beacon and other NAVAIDs for maintenance and visibility. A plow operator sitting on the runway end should be able to see the PAPI lights for that runway. Snow banks in front of NAVAIDs can make them unusable and affect their accuracy.

Use caution when plowing around lights and signs; they are mounted to break away when hit, so they can easily be dislodged by the force of snow being plowed against them. Check NAVAIDs and light couplings after plowing to identify any damage that has occurred and to make sure they’re operating correctly.

Finally, remember to clear more than just the main runway or you’ll leave pilots with no way to move off of it. A good strategy is to plow the main runway first, followed by the taxiways, aircraft loading areas, public roadways, secondary runways and taxiways, hangar taxi lanes, and vehicle parking areas. If you must stop before the plowing is complete, be sure to issue a NOTAM for the surfaces that have not been plowed.

9 tips to avoid runway incursions when plowing:

  • Know the airport and its boundaries, particularly the location of taxiways and runways, since some signs may be covered with snow.
  • Check NOTAMs to ensure the runway has been closed before moving onto it for plowing.
  • Listen to the radio carefully and communicate your movements clearly.
  • Repeat back any communications from pilots.
  • Note required clearances indicated on snow removal maps.
  • Maintain situational awareness.
  • Understand signs, lighting, and markings.
  • Never assume anything.
  • Take extra care in low-visibility conditions.

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