During Kansas City's winter storms City of Kansas City, Missouri employees are hard at work removing snow and ice from city streets. The same holds true at Kansas City International and Charles B. Wheeler Downtown airports where Aviation Department employees work long and hard to keep the airport system safe and operating efficiently. Travelers are always urged to check flykci.com for real-time KCI flight information.
At both airports, it is Kansas City Aviation Department’s responsibility to keep runways, taxiways, roadways and parking lots safe and free from excessive snow and ice. The effectiveness of the snow and ice control program is proven by the excellent records at both airports. It is extremely rare that either of the airports is shut down due to field conditions, but if safety were to be compromised, Airport Operations would close the airport until conditions allowed for continued operation. However, there are times when the airports are open and airlines or pilots choose not to use the airfields due to weather conditions. This is often a matter of company policy or a judgment call on the part of the pilots. KCI airline passengers may check real-time flight status at flykci.com.
Planning and manpower are key
Long before the first snow, Aviation Department crews begin repair and modification work on snow and ice control equipment to ensure its readiness. Special attention is given to operator comfort, as drivers work long hours with the equipment. Training, of course, is comprehensive and ongoing. Crew efforts are carefully planned according to various forecasting services, runway braking action reports and runway pavement temperature sensors.
Steel, rubber and wire brush
It takes large-scale equipment to take on the large-scale project of keeping the air operations area (AOA) clean in inclement winter conditions. For instance, KCI has 15.4 million square feet of runways, taxiways and aprons, and over 7.2 million square feet of roads and parking area to keep clear. The Aviation Department’s airside snow removal fleet is made up of 16 rubber bladed snowplows either 18 or 22 feet wide, 10 steel and poly bristled front rotary brooms that are 20 feet wide, 7 snow blowers capable of removing up to 7,500 tons of snow an hour each, and 3 chemical applicator trucks with booms -- spanning 75 feet each – used in the application of liquid anti-icer when it is deemed necessary to chemically pre-treat the prescribed movement areas.
Sending in the troops
When the Aviation Department Operations Managers see that there is a measurable amount of snow or ice on a runway, it is temporarily shut down for removal procedures. One way airport management at KCI determines the condition of the runways is with the Aviation Department’s runway friction tester. It may look like a Ford pickup but the friction tester utilizes an on-board computer to analyze the weight, distance, speed and torque obtained from sensors attached to a test fifth wheel driven by the rear differential. The test wheel is of a specific type and size, carries a specific load, and is driven 13 percent less than vehicle speed to determine the coefficient of friction of the pavement surface for “braking action reports” for pilots.
During the snow removal process, air traffic is handled in different ways. In the case of KCI, the second parallel runway is used if severe cross-wind conditions do not exist. At Downtown Airport where air traffic is sparser, snow removal occurs between arriving and departing aircraft. Field crews are then sent into action to bring the runway back to its normal condition. The entire process of clearing a runway usually takes 40 minutes to an hour and a half.
Formations of multiple trucks called "conga lines" make passes up and down the runway, plowing the snow and ice toward the side. Trucks with rubber-edged plows and rotary front brooms gently remove snow and ice from areas with lights inset into the pavement. Then snow blowers remove the windrows and piles of snow from the pavement and blow it beyond the airfield lights and signs. A similar process removes snow from taxiways, which aircraft use to enter and exit the runways. Aprons are sometimes plowed simultaneously with the runways and taxiways with the use of specialized snow dozers and ramp hog plows.
Sand and liquid anti-icer are used on pavement surfaces to improve traction on packed snow and ice. The sand is specially graded to minimize jet engine ingestion damage, and is more than three times as expensive as sand typically used on streets. Airfield sand is kept warm and dry to create a sandpaper effect on the ice’s surface. Crews "squeegee" excess deicer from aircraft deicing around on apron areas to take advantage of the chemical action to keep them safe for aircraft and ground crews.
Roadways, parking and sidewalks
Not only should the operation of aircraft be safe at Kansas City airports, but travel by land and parking should be a walk in the park for airport visitors.
Trucks keep roads and parking lots free of snow and ice with plows and salt. When temperatures dip below 20 degrees, pelletized sodium acetate can be added to the salt to enhance its effectiveness.
So hurrying travelers won't have any mishaps, small riding tractors equipped with front-end brooms remove snow from sidewalks. In order to protect surfaces, shrubbery and grass, non-corrosive compounds such as potassium acetate are used to control ice in these areas. Snow is removed with hand shovels in critical areas.
Free dig out and jump start service is available in all on-airport parking lots.
De-icing the planes
When temperatures reach the freezing level aircraft exteriors can receive a build-up of ice, even when no measurable precipitation exists. Freeing critical aircraft surfaces of all snow and ice prior to flying is important, especially on wings and control surfaces. Although it is the ultimate responsibility of the pilot in command (PIC) to ensure "clean wings" before takeoff, it is a team approach that gets the aircraft up in the air safely.
The KCI de-icing plan is a fine-tuned, coordinated effort involving the airline, the Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Control tower and the KCI Airport Communications Center. Airline employees use boom trucks to reach aircraft and apply heated, pressurized deicing fluid on airliners. The length of time it takes to apply deicing fluid is usually integrated in the aircraft's departure schedule to allow it to take off safely and ice-free, but there can be slight delays during de-icing. Just as applies on roads, pilots adjust their ground speeds to the conditions to be safe.
Dedication and perseverance
During Midwest winters, Kansas City system airports would surely not stay operational without the hard work and skill that goes into the removal of frozen precipitation, and the coordination of these efforts by the Aviation Department, aircraft operators and the FAA.
The Kansas City Airport System is an Enterprise Fund Department of the City of Kansas City, Mo., and is supported wholly by airport user charges. No general tax fund revenues are used for the administration, promotion, operation, or maintenance of the airports in the system. Visit flykci.com for more information. Find us on Twitter and Facebook.