Charlie Gets a Makeover and Other Winter Tales

Pittsburgh in November means Thanksgiving, Steelers — and preparing for snow.

With the winter weather season fast approaching, crews at Pittsburgh International Airport are making preparations and conducting snow and ice removal exercises so that operations continue safely and efficiently through the most challenging conditions.

On Nov. 14, Airfield Operations and Field Maintenance will conduct their annual winter familiarization drill. Local weather officials will discuss the seasonal forecast, and drivers will take the plow trucks, brooms and other heavy equipment out for a dry run on the airfield.

Each year, crews conduct a winter ops drill to ensure safety and efficiency during challenging winter conditions on the airfield.

“This is a coordinated event between departments and the FAA control tower to ensure that everyone knows what to do when the snow actually starts to fall,” said April Gasparri, senior vice president, Public Safety, Operations & Maintenance. “The goal is to get personnel familiarized with the ergonomics of the equipment and operating on the airfield.”

And it’s not just the surfaces of the runways that require attention.

If you’re traveling through Pittsburgh from October through March, chances are good that your plane will need to be deiced. Last season, for example, crews deiced more than 4,500 planes using nearly 600,000 gallons of deicing fluid.

So one of the most important winter prep projects was this summer’s total renovation of the 12.5-acre “Charlie” deice pad — one of four deicing pads at PIT — at a cost of $27 million. The bulk of the project was paid for using grants from the Federal Aviation Authority and PennDOT, as well as $5 million from the Allegheny County Airport Authority. It was the first full rehab of the pad in more than 25 years.

The project included removal and replacement of more than 61,000 square yards of concrete (almost 10 football fields), installation of a new deicing fluid collection system, two new above-ground storage tanks and new airfield pavement markings, lighting and signage.

“Modernization of the deicing pad will facilitate improving aircraft operations at PIT,” said Jeff Bezek, engineering project manager. “The new configuration will allow multiple aircraft to be deiced at the same time, decreasing airline and passenger wait times between departure from gate and ’wheels up’ on the runway.”

One of the most important improvements to the Charlie pad was upgrading the fluid collection system.

“We installed a new liner system, new piping and new above-ground storage to improve operations and lessen environmental impacts,” Bezek said.

The new configuration also accounts for increased size of newer “wider body” aircraft while providing all necessary safety zones (distance between aircraft) during deicing operations.

All of the winter preparations ensure that PIT can remain operational during winter storms that often cripple such East Coast gateways as New York, Washington, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Last season, PIT’s award-winning snow removal team even offered equipment and personnel assistance to the Erie Airport after the region experienced more than 10 feet of snow over a few days.

Hence the famous slogan at PIT: “We’ve only been closed due to weather twice in 26 years.”

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