Winter Overhauls

Adding new equipment and creating dedicated runway and taxiway clearing teams will reduce snow removal times by a third this winter. (All-Larry Goldstein Photography) Vancouver airport carries out a mock de-icing on a B-767 in its new centralised de-icing facility.

Vancouver International Airport has completely rewritten its winter services operations. Carroll McCormick reports.

Adding new equipment and creating dedicated runway and taxiway clearing teams will reduce snow removal times by a third this winter. (All-Larry Goldstein Photography) Vancouver airport carries out a mock de-icing on a B-767 in its new centralised de-icing facility.

After enduring show-stopping storms in December, 2008, the Vancouver Airport Authority added several powerful new pieces of snow-removal equipment and created dedicated runway and taxiway clearing teams.  It also rebuilt its de-icing operation from the asphalt up with a centralised de-icing facility and 20 Vestergaard de-icing trucks.
Located on the west coast of British Columbia, Vancouver has one of the mildest climates in Canada.  Its airport normally experiences enviably-easy winters: three or four snowstorms that blow in off the Pacific Ocean and perhaps two weeks of sub-zero temperatures that cause frost formation on aircraft wings.
But Mother Nature, playing one of its wild cards, dumped over 31.5in (80cm) of snow on the airport during the 2008 Christmas rush.  “The storms started around December 15 and went nuts around the 20th.  We got four storms over the course of about ten days,” reports Don Ehrenholz, the airport’s vice-president of airport operations.  “There were a lot of cancelled flights and stranded passengers during the worst storms.”
The month’s snow accumulation was .039in (1mm) short of setting a new all-time record, and recalled similar snow events previously seen only in 1996, 1972, the 1960s and the 1930s.
Twice, when the show-clearing crew could not keep up with the falling snow, the airport had to close one of its two principal runways; 08/26, which is 11,003ft (3,354m) long, and 26/08, which is 9,940ft (3,030m) long, which handle about 99% of the airport’s traffic.
De-icing operations also slowed to a crawl.  “I would be kind saying that it would take one and a half to two hours to de-ice a plane,” Ehrenholz says.
In light of the upcoming Olympic Winter games Vancouver would be hosting from February 12-28, 2010 and the heavy additional traffic they would bring, the airport authority decided that major changes to its winter operations were required.  “The experience we had triggered a review of our winter and de-icing programme,” Ehrenholz says.
The airport had been running a single snow removal team, using eleven main pieces of equipment.  The typical clearance time was 30 minutes per runway and another 30 minutes for the connecting taxiways; the airport has 5.6 miles (9km) of runways, 12.4 miles (20km) of taxiways, 11.8 million sq ft (1.1 million m2) of apron space and nearly 150 pieces of snow removal equipment.
To speed up the snow removal, the airport authority purchased additional high-powered equipment (see sidebar).  It also decided to dedicate one snow removal team to clearing the runways and a second team to clearing taxiways.  These improvements have reduced clearing times to 20 minutes per main runway and 20 minutes for the taxiways.  (The cross runway 12/30, which is 7,299ft (2,225m) long, will be used for parking aircraft during the Winter Games.)
The teams trained from early September to the end of October.  At night one could sometimes see the surreal sight of the runway clearing team practising echelon training: driving eleven to 15 pieces of equipment in formation down the runway, without a flake of snow in sight.
 
Centralised de-icing pad
The existing de-icing set-up was inefficient and insufficient.  The airport had three widely-separated de-icing areas: one for trans-border aircraft, another for WestJet and a three-bay pad just west of the international building for other aircraft.  This pad, the largest of the three, had two Code E bays and one Code F bay.  None of the three sites were equipped for engines-on operations.
Air Canada and United Airlines handled their own de-icing.  Swissport and Servisair provided de-icing services to other airlines with 12 trucks inherited from some of their other operations.  The three pads also shared de-icing trucks, putting more drag on the system: trucks had to spray aircraft; then drive 3 miles (5km) to another pad to spray more aircraft, and then race on to the next customer.  “There were a lot of trucks driving around and not doing much spraying.  This all caused a huge amount of inefficiency,” Ehernholz explains.
The airport authority met with the airlines last January and got the necessary buy-in to create a centralised de-icing facility.  “The airlines understood the challenges, such as old equipment that broke down and which lacked the technology like glycol preheat or the ability to vary the ratio of glycol to water,” Ehernholz explains.
This three-pad de-icing area became the centralised facility and one more Code F bay was added in the summer of 2009.  The airport authority awarded Montreal-based Groupe Aéro MAG 2000 a contract to be the sole de-icing provider to the centralised facility.
The facility also has a completely new fleet of 20 de-icing trucks (see sidebar).  The Vancouver Airport Authority owns eight, including two Elephant Beta-15s, which can de-ice the Airbus A380.  Aéro MAG purchased 12 more Vestergaard trucks.
Aéro MAG installed a temporary ice house, from where the aircraft to be de-iced are controlled, and says it will build a permanent facility later.  For de-icing operations (the season runs from October 15 to March 31) aircraft taxi to a control point near the pad, then air traffic control passes them over to the ice house team.  From this point on, the ice house handles the aircraft until de-icing is completed and the planes reach the exit point of the de-icing facility.  They are then handed back to air traffic control, and taxi out for take-off.  The total diversion time for a typical Code D or E aircraft is just 15 minutes.
The new de-icing trucks use about 50% less glycol than the old units.  De-icing fluid is gathered in holding tanks and then collected by Inland Technologies Inc headquartered in Truro, Nova Scotia, for recycling.
 
Ready for the Games
With the addition of powerful new snow removal equipment, dedicated snow clearing teams and a sparkling new fleet of de-icing trucks for its centralised de-icing facility, the Vancouver airport believes is ready for the surge of traffic that the Olympic Winter Games will bring in February 2010.  The airport expects corporate traffic to soar from its usual 100 or-so movements a day to as many as 400.  Air Canada and WestJet alone are adding over 270 additional flights and other scheduled carriers are greatly increasing their operations.  The airport authority expects to handle an additional 39,000 passengers on the day after the closing ceremonies.
 
 
Winter Equipment
New winter service equipment at Vancouver airport includes:

  • One Batts runway de-icer with 4,000 US gallon (15,140 litres) capacity;
  • Four MB 4600 sweeper trains with 26ft (7.92m) ploughs and 400hp brooms;
  • Four Oshkosh H-series snowblowers with 600hp blowers;
  • One Oshkosh H-series sweeper with 22ft (6.71m), 475hp broom;
  • Twenty Vestergaard de-icing trucks, including two Elephant Beta-15s, capable of de-icing the A380.