With a winter storm over the weekend, crews at Pittsburgh International Airport prepped to clear ice and snow from nearly 40,000 feet of runways, taxiways, ramps and roadways around the airport.
Weather forecasters ruminated about a possible major winter storm from the Mid-Atlantic to the Northeast, and the snow predictions for Saturday through Sunday were ominous for the Pittsburgh region: upwards of several inches or more of snow depending on the track of the storm.
“We remain in contact with our weather partners on the track and predictions of upcoming weather,” said Jim Moorhead, PIT’s assistant superintendent of field maintenance. “The large event is forecasted for Saturday night into Sunday.”
Moorhead said the airport’s winter operations equipment is ready, and airfield chemicals and road salt have been replenished from last weekend’s snow. PIT is ready with more than 50 pieces of equipment, including massive runway plows and brooms, snow blowers, deicers, chemical spreaders and the newest additions to the winter fleet: multitasking equipment, or MTE.
For this winter season, PIT purchased four new pieces of multitasking equipment, including tow-behind combination brooms and blowers, which attach to four existing snow plows, at a cost of about $2.8 million.
It’s like having three machines in one, officials said. Instead of a team of plows removing heavy snow, followed by a team of brooms removing the remaining slow and slush, crews can now move faster down the runway by having the plow directly in front of the broom, followed by a blower in the back.
“We can operate more efficiently because of the design,” Moorhead said. “The new equipment also improves safety because it limits the equipment and staff on the runway.”
About that fire on the ramp …
On Nov. 27, one of the new MTE units clearing snow on the ramp caught fire near Concourse A, and the scene was captured on video and broadcast by local news media. There were no injuries during the incident, airport operations were not disrupted and airport firefighters extinguished the blaze within minutes.
The Allegheny County fire marshal, along with airport firefighters and company technicians, quickly detected the source of the problem: a battery wire not properly secured at the factory and placed near a fuel line and filter. Once it arced, the fuel line ruptured.
Moorhead said all the other MTE units at PIT were checked, along with 84 units at other airports across the country. No further problems have been reported. The company is also preparing a new MTE unit for PIT that should arrive by late February.
As little as 1/8 of an inch of slush triggers snow removal operations at PIT, according to the airport’s Snow and Ice Control Plan, which contains a litany of FAA mandates related to winter operations.
Among the rules, PIT must have sufficient equipment to clear one inch of falling snow weighing up to 25 pounds from priority areas within 30 minutes.
Field Maintenance Superintendent Barry Miller said that ice events pose the biggest challenges for crews.
“The skill and experience of our team usually allows us to navigate with minimal disruption to operations,” he said.
PIT’s snow removal teams have been recognized nationally over the past several decades, winning several awards.
In addition to off-season preparations, including inspections, cleaning and maintenance of equipment, drivers have been trained how to use the new MTEs, each of which is about 50 feet long and features numerous computerized systems and controls. The team also takes equipment out for a practice run on the airfield during the annual winter ops drill every November.
In coming years, PIT expects to continue modernizing its airfield operations fleet and purchase additional pieces of multitasking equipment.
And that will only make the snow removal go faster, Moorhead said.