on whether the snow crews have access to it.
Further, it has become imperative that the crews
work with their silent partner, the control tower,
to optimize every available minute during a snow
event. For example, an airport with 12 arrivals and
departures an hour will have only 24 minutes to
conduct snow removal in an hour. However, these
24 minutes are broken up into four or five periods
of five to six minutes each. This also assumes a
perfect performance by controllers, pilots and
snow crews during the hour.
A slow response by any of the three players
penalizes the snow removal operation. As such,
it becomes critical to have crews ready and able
to move quickly into position, and this requires
proficiency and confidence in the snow crews and
traffic controllers. Encourage a culture of cooperation so both controllers and crews have a collective understanding of how each depends upon the
other, and that if either partner neglects the needs
of the other, both sides fail.
Things work best when I assign a shift supervisor
to be a physical presence in the control tower to
answer questions and to help coordinate the snow
operations. In return, we offer the controllers
rides whenever they want to see the airfield
from our level (nighttime and snowy times are
preferred). Having an airfield representative in
the tower was something I learned when I was
an aircraft carrier pilot and spent many hours
standing the “tower flower” duty, coordinating
my squadron’s operations.
HEARING PROTECTION AND RUNWAY SAFETY
An improvement to our operation this year is the
incorporation of personal headsets for the crews.
We’ve installed a system in each cab that allows
the operator to plug in a headset that has a boom
microphone, thereby removing all cabin and engine
noise. This improves communication by focusing
attention on radioed instructions. With two radios
to monitor in the cab (the FAA radio and the airport
radio), the equipment operator now has the ability to
listen to a single radio in each ear. Instructions issued
over either radio can be answered with the flick of a
toggle switch. When a second employee rides along
in the cab, a voice-operated intercom system allows
the two employees to talk to each other.
Snow equipment that has imbedded GPS
technology can increase runway safety by
permitting the operator to see his location on a
heads-up display. Through the selection of filters,
the display also can depict the locations of other
vehicles and equipment, thus improving the
operator’s situational awareness. Operators now can
view the snow team’s formation, confirm when all
vehicles have left a runway, and view their progress
on the airfield. Install a monitor in the tower, and
this information is priceless to FAA controllers who
can view the formations and use it to confirm the
location of equipment when visibility is low.
Through the logic of the equipment’s microprocessor and its GPS feed, operations and maintenance teams can collect and view information on
several data points that are useful in measuring the
operation’s effectiveness. Items such as equipment
run time, location, speed, broom head position
and distance all can be captured automatically for
evaluation. Additionally, the vehicle’s maintenance
cycles (oil, filters, belts, tires, and mid-level maintenance checks) now can be set against specific
rubrics to prevent breakage and could be used to
schedule maintenance in a timely manner and
improve inventory control.
With so much data collection, generating a report
on airfield conditions can be made more objectively.
Data from the equipment can be transmitted back to
the operations center where it populates templates
that lead to an airfield condition report. In the end,
capture of accurate data is the best way to begin analysis and develop a continuous improvement process.
EFFECTIVE CREW SCHEDULING
During the winter season, life for the crews is
filled with busy work while they wait for snow.
Instead of having full-time employees at work with
little to do, a portion — perhaps 40 percent — of
the crew can be on reserve. A reserve employee
would not report to work but instead be prepared
to report to work within a specific time period —
such as 90 minutes. In return, the employee is free
to go about his/her life, knowing that he/she could
be called in at any moment.
Typically, for two days a week the employee
would be free from the obligation to be on alert,
allowing him/her greater freedom in selection of
activities. Compensation for the employee would
be based on whatever hours he/she worked. In the
event there was no snow and no additional staff
was needed, the reserve employee would be guaranteed a certain number of hours — 30 hours a week
for example —as a minimum payment with 40
hours of benefits. In the end, this reduces expenses
and gives the employee more free time to tackle
projects around the house, go to movies, volunteer
at schools, and take on other small jobs.
Winter weather is rarely a surprise, so a savvy reserve
employee would watch the forecast carefully to be in a
position to best integrate off-duty work and life’s commitments with the airport’s obligations. A
Tom Dames, A.A.E., is airfield superintendent at Buffalo
Niagara International Airport. He may be reached at Thomas_