Ready for winter (no matter how early it comes)

The winter storm earlier this month may not have been welcomed by travellers hoping for a balmy fall, but the snow and ice was no surprise to Winnipeg Richardson International Airport’s airfield services team.

“It’s our job to be ready for anything, even if winter decides to come early,” said Airfield Services Manager Roberto Furletti. “Our winter preparedness starts in the summer months, so we’re well-equipped to keep the airport safe and operational every month of the year.”

Winter preparedness is a major operation at YWG, involving everything from hiring extra staff to calibrating equipment.

“Our airfield maintenance crew nearly triples in size during the winter months,” said Airfield Duty Manager Jason Christensen. “We have 22 extra employees that we bring in for the winter. Many of them return to us year after year, so they know exactly what to expect and just how seriously we take winter readiness.”

Furletti and Christensen shared some of the seasonal measures that ensure the airfield team is ready to respond whenever the snow flies.

Stockpiling sand. Sand plays an essential role during winter operations to ensure good traction on snow and ice, and the airport needs a lot of it. Each summer the airport orders 900 metric tons of sand – equivalent to the weight of over 170 adult male elephants. In winter, heated sand is applied to airfield surfaces to ensure they remain operational and safe.

De-icing preparations. Just as planes must be de-iced during the winter months, maintenance crews use de-icing equipment to keep airfield surfaces safe and clear. Crews inspect and test the de-icing vehicle used on airport runways and stock up on de-icing chemical to ensure aircraft can maintain appropriate traction.

Pre-season maintenance. Airfield crews use several types of specialized equipment to quickly clear ice and snow, and preventive maintenance is completed well in advance of the winter season. The airport’s 1,500-horsepower snow blowers – which can throw snow up to 250 feet – are inspected and tested long before they’re needed. The airport’s giant sweepers, which allow crews to quickly clear runways down to the pavement in 20-foot swaths, receive new bristle cores.

Crew training. The airport’s winter operations team is deeply experienced, but annual training ensures ongoing readiness for even the worst winter weather. Crews are trained or refamiliarized with all equipment, and safety regulations and protocols are reviewed.

Equipment calibration. Crews carefully monitor forecasts and radar in advance of inclement weather, and monitoring of air and surface conditions is near-constant while a snow event is occurring. Equipment that gathers data on essential considerations such as runway friction is tested and calibrated in the warmer months before it’s needed.

Furletti noted the airport hasn’t had to close due to weather since 1997 – a testament to the skill and experience of the airport’s dedicated crews.

“We’re fortunate to have an extremely hardworking team that recognizes the importance of the work they do,” Furletti said. “It’s a complex operation but we follow a simple formula: We hope for the best but ensure we’re always ready for the worst.”


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