The New Year came in like a lion and continues to throw challenges our way. As many of you know, the weather played a major role in the 2013/2014 holiday travel season, and it had an impact on travel here, across Canada and in the United States. With many more weeks of winter left, and the possibility of more inclement weather, I would like to offer some insight to how winter operations work at the airport.
The Airport Authority employs seasonal winter crews to handle snow removal - both on the groundside roadways, parking lots and walkways, and on the airside runways, taxiways and aprons. Safety is the first priority for the Authority and all of our airport partners, so these crews are critical to the operation. Most of the crew members have years, if not decades, of experience doing their job - and they are very good at what they do. Often, when a large storm is forecast, multiple crews can be called in to handle snow removal, sweeping and cleaning. Our priority will always be to provide safe runways so that aircraft can land and take-off despite severe weather events like freezing rain, heavy snowfall and poor visibility.
The machinery that the airside crews utilize was mostly purchased and deployed in 2010, and includes state-of-the-art multi-function snow removal systems. The systems are comprised of a 24-foot snow plow and 22-foot sweeper that are capable of cleaning 120 to 140 foot widths in one pass, reducing total runway cleaning time from 40 minutes, as was the case with our previous equipment, to just 15 minutes.
The vehicles are also equipped with infrared cameras, enhanced vision systems and GPS tracking. When the drivers are faced with blowing snow in the middle of the night, with zero visibility, a driver's knowledge of where he/she is as well as where fellow operators are, is crucial.
Chemicals are also a necessary piece of the winter operations puzzle to reduce snow and ice build-up, as well as increasing runway friction values which is important for aircraft braking effectiveness. Salt cannot be used on airside surfaces due to its corrosive properties, but there are other materials that work well. Sodium formate is used as a surface de-icer, is effective to -8oC, and is used to break the bond between the ice and the hard surface. Potassium acetate is used as a surface anti-icer and/or a pre-wet agent, which is applied in anticipation of a freezing rain event to minimize the adherence of ice to the surface. It works with sodium formate to break the surface bond of ice more quickly. When it gets too cold for the chemicals to do their job, we apply grit using sanding trucks. It's important that the teams are nimble enough to adapt as weather conditions change so that we can keep the runways in safe operating condition.
Aircraft de-icing is also critical during winter and cold conditions. The Ottawa Airport has a central de-icing facility that is operated by Aero Mag 2000, on behalf of an airline consortium that is responsible for setting the terms and service levels it needs to operate effectively. Aero Mag is responsible for both managing the traffic at the de-icing pad and for applying the de-icing fluid to the aircraft.
When inclement weather is forecast, the Authority meets with all stakeholders - airlines, ground handlers, Aero Mag, the airport’s cleaning contractors, the concessionaires and everyone else who has a role to play where the operation is concerned. It's important to understand what the plan is for equipment removal so that our crews can get in and out of the apron areas and remove snow as efficiently as possible. Every company understands the importance of working together to deal with the weather in the most efficient manner possible - we all want our passengers to get safely on their way with minimal delay.
Our communications team works to provide information concerning the impact that the weather has on our local operation. Airlines are responsible for communicating about their respective flights that may be affected - whether due to weather in Ottawa or at a particular destination. No matter what the weather, it's always a good idea to check with your carrier before heading to the airport to fly or to greet an arriving passenger.
The winter still has some life left in it, and our crews will be at the ready regardless of what Mother Nature has in store. For what we've already dealt with, and for what may come in the next few months, I would like to say thank you to all of our airport partners for their efforts, and to our passengers and clients for their patience and understanding during what has been a challenging season.
I know I'm looking forward to spring sunshine. In the meantime, let's enjoy Winterlude and all of the great outdoor activities that our nation's capital has to offer. For those of you who choose to escape to the sunshine in the South, don't forget to pack your sunscreen.
Safe travels to all,
President and CEO
Ottawa International Airport Authority