Behind the scenes of winter readiness at YWG

There’s a reason why Winnipeg is known as Winterpeg. The extreme cold, high winds and heavy snow that regularly sweep through the city are enough to make even Jack Frost hide. But the conditions don’t bother the airfield maintenance crews at Winnipeg Richardson International Airport as they’re always ready for anything.

The team starts preparing for winter long before the temperatures start to drop. Orders are placed during the warmer months for the roughly 1,500 tons of specially-produced gravel used to improve traction on the runways, taxiways and aprons. Regular sand can’t be used as it could damage aircraft, leading to costly repairs and delays.

“We’re thinking about winter in the middle of summer,” said Jeff Rorabeck, Manager of Airfield Services. “The majority of our preparation, preventative maintenance and planning is done between April and November. We need to be working a few months ahead so we’re always ready.”

Storing the equivalent of 214 elephants’ worth of weight of gravel requires equally huge structures. Before being spread on the airfield, the tiny pebbles are moved to a heated building to thaw so they can better stick to the 1.1 million square metres of pavement better.

Two different types of salt, 18,000 kg of a granular form and 55,000 gallons of a liquid form, are also used each winter to prevent ice from forming. Helping them to distribute all of that the material is a fleet of massive heavy-duty machinery. The airfield crews have 40 pieces of equipment available to them including graters, snow blowers and plows equipped with brushes to sweep away snow.

“Equipment is the biggest challenge when it comes to our winter operations,” said Rorabeck. “We always have an extra piece of equipment on standby in case one needs to be looked at by our mechanics.”

To help keep the airport operating 24/7/365, four crews of eight employees are stationed at YWG around the clock. This allows them to quickly respond to anything Mother Nature throws their way. Fueling them during those long, wintry nights are countless cups of coffee.

“It’s challenging work,” said Rorabeck. “You’re clearing everything to do it all over again in just a few hours. But every single member of the airfield maintenance team is dedicated and driven. I’m extremely proud of our crew.”

It’s thanks to their preparation and teamwork as well as our constant finger on the forecast that helps keep flights moving safely regardless of the weather. 

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