The team at Pittsburgh International Airport takes winter very seriously. You have to when you operate in a region that can get nearly 60 inches of snowfall between October and May, which has happened twice since 2017.
Each fall, the Field Maintenance and Operations departments, as well as other staff members, hold a winter operations prep meeting attended by a National Weather Service meteorologist and an expert in snow removal and deicing chemicals used by the airport.
The group reviews the weather and snowfall forecast for the next few months and discusses best practices for using the different types of chemicals, including freezing points, to spread across 40,000 feet of runways, taxiways, ramps and roadways around the airport throughout the winter.
“These meetings are critical to getting everybody ready for the snowy season,” said Jim Moorhead, Superintendent of Field Maintenance at PIT. “Anything we can do to prepare now gives us an advantage when the snow starts falling.”
After the prep meeting, the drivers and heavy equipment operators stage a drill out on the airfield, carefully coordinating thousands of tons of specialized vehicles including runway plows and brooms, snow blowers and deicers.
History of excellence
The planning helps to ensure that PIT can remain operational during winter storms that often cripple East Coast gateways.
The airport’s experience in staying operational even in the heaviest winter storms is evident in the Snow Removal Equipment building where more than a dozen banners listing all of the prestigious Balchen/Post awards earned by PIT over the years hang from the rafters.
Issued by the Northeast Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives, the awards honor U.S. airports “for outstanding achievement in airport snow and ice control.”
PIT regularly appears in the top three or four alongside airports like Buffalo Niagara International Airport (New York) and Fairbanks International Airport (Alaska), which serve some of the snowiest regions in the entire nation.
To help continue that impressive track record, the airport acquired 13 new pieces of equipment in the past few years, including multi-tasking machines that feature plows and brooms, and three runway snow blowers that can move 10,000 tons of snow per hour.
The overarching goal is to maintain a safe airfield in any weather condition. Minimizing the amount of time a runway needs to be closed for snow removal is part of that mission, Moorhead said, and the new machines will help shorten those closures.
In addition, PIT staff attend classes at the “snow academy” held every year in Buffalo during the International Snow Symposium to stay on top of industry trends, equipment standards and review best practices from other airports, he said.