Keeping things moving on snow days

Snow clearing team and equipment 2018 web

They say it takes a village to raise a child. For us, it takes an entire airport community to keep things running smoothly and safely during winter.

Planning starts early with key members of the airport community - airlines, Airways, border agencies and QAC’s Operations team - coming together in April to go through the Winter Operations Plan.

Overall responsibility for the management and coordination of snow clearing operations rests with Snow Control (Rescue Fire) under the able command of the "Snowman" (Fire or Deputy Fire Chief on duty).

One of the main roles of the Rescue Fire (RF) team in winter is to get the airport open for business -and keep it open - so flights can land and take off safely. Our commitment is to ensure the runway is clear within 45 minutes of overnight snowfall and to keep the runway clear if it falls during the day.

The main areas to clear are the runway, including the lights which need special attention, then the apron. De-icing the planes falls to the airlines and can take up to 20 minutes to de-ice a plane that’s iced up overnight.

There’s a lot of planning and organisation involved when there’s snow on the way. The day before, the RF duty team calls a meeting of all the agencies to formulate the plan. They work around their red, blue and green shifts to ensure there’s a team tasked only for snow duty and the others are well rested or on hand for emergencies.

The snow duty team makes every reasonable effort to clear snow and ice from airside areas as soon as snow starts to fall. It’s a lengthy process, especially when there are persistent snowfalls. They also have to anticipate when snowfall may occur during the day too so they're continually assessing the MetService forecasts and air temperatures to determine response requirements and priorities.

There’s also types of snow to factor in and depending on whether the runway has ice, dry snow, compacted snow, wet snow, slush or standing water, various tools in the airport’s arsenal will be deployed.

Between 2016 and 2018, more than $950,000 has been invested in the airport’s snow clearing equipment. The newest addition, a $750,000 state-of-the-art sweeper from Norway, is designed to clear 230,00sqm of surface area per hour (ZQN’s runway is 85,000sqm) and blows at speeds of up to 550km an hour.

It all works in unison with the other equipment on hand. The blade on the front of the sweeper (the sweeper is known as AP88 or Snowy McSnowface) will clear snow to the side of the runway and the sweeper on the back will then clean the runway.  Then Helga, the monster snowblower which is capable of shifting 2,700 tonnes of snow per hour, follows, dispersing the pile of snow.

While getting the airfield flight-ready every day is a key focus in winter, it’s just as important that the rest of the airport is safe for travellers, meeters and greeters and workers to move around safely. While things are cranking on the tarmac and apron, the Operations team is out in force landside, winter gear on, shovels in hand and ice pellets at the ready. Starting from 5am, the team does everything it can to keep the access roads, car parks and pathways ice-free for everyone’s safety.