A pilot’s perspective of snow
BY TOM DAMES, A.A.E.
It was January, snowing, and my first day in charge of operations at Buffalo Niagara International Airport. As an out-of-work airline pilot, I had never operated a snowplow before but now was handed the responsibility of keeping the airport open and safe
during a Buffalo winter.
My new boss explained, “Well, you of all people should know what a pilot will need to land
at this airport.” I went to my comfort zone and
began developing a training plan for the airport.
Ten years later, I believe investing in the airport’s
employees through training has the greatest impact
on an airport’s snow plan.
Much like professional sports, the season might
have ended, but preparations and personnel chang-
es continue all year. We review fleet plans, budgets
(annual budgets are first submitted in July), fund-
ing programs, staff levels and training programs
throughout the summer. In October, we suspend all
normal work for a week and hold training camp,
Because many subjects
are the same and the
details rarely change sig-
nificantly year to year, we
take a creative approach to
the instruction and often
make games or contests
of the information. We’ve
even used “Jeopardy” style
competitions to make it
more engaging. Another highlight of October Week is
an equipment rodeo that tests operators’ individual
skills on many types of equipment, resulting in a
rodeo champion who receives special parking privi-
leges for the year.
VITAL STATS AND SNOW MONEY
Buffalo is a medium hub airport that serves more
than 5 million passengers annually and averages 113
daily scheduled movements. Our operations and
maintenance groups are combined, resulting in a
full-time staff of 25 employees and four supervisors.
The snow removal program is staffed by three groups
of personnel: full-time employees, employees from
supporting departments and contractors.
The fleet plan is a mix of 36 typical pieces of equipment, with no combination equipment. Our average
equipment age is 9. 3 years, and we replace one or two
pieces a year through our PFC program.
We don’t apply a liquid chemical, but we are
beginning to incorporate that tool into the snow
removal plan in order to reduce some of the wear
and tear that applying large amounts of sand and grit
has on the airport.
Typically, we use the last seven years worth of data
to develop a snow budget, which comprises 3 per-