Airport snow removal challenging

WESTFIELD – While the Department of Public works worked round the clock to clear streets during and following the Blizzard Nemo, the challenges of keeping Barnes Regional Airport operating are very different from snowplowing streets.
Airport Manager Brian Barnes said snowplowing is not the best option because of Federal Aviation Administration regulations and because of the scope of work entailed in clearing snow, especially after 23 inches gets dumped in a 24-hour period.
City officials are watching how a low system bringing rain, high winds and tornadoes down south, tracks north bringing a chance of rain, sleet or snow this weekend. Public Works Superintendent Jim Mulvenna is hoping that any precipitation is in the form of rain, a hope shared by Barnes.
The airport has two runways, one 9,000 feet long and 150 feet wide, and the second 5,000 feet long and 100 feet wide. Both runways are served by taxiways of the same length, the 9,000 foot taxiway is 75 feet wide, while the 5,000 foot long taxiway is 50 feet wide. Then there are aprons and the aircraft parking area, hangers and access to those hangers.
“You’re talking about thousands and thousands of square feet of paved surface that has to be cleared,” Barnes said. “And you can’t just plow it because the FAA regulations prohibit snow banks. The snow along the runways and taxiways can only be a few inches high because of wingtips.”
“You also are restricted (to daylight) operations if the lights are covered with snow.  That’s mandatory, and you don’t want to damage the light with plow blades,” Barnes said. “I used to love winter, but lately no so much.”
The Airport purchased a self-propelled snow blower, at the cost of $500,000, with the capability of throwing 2,500 tons of snow an hour.
“The snow blower is our big problem. It’s broke more than it works. So we relied heavily on the Air National Guard to help us out” during Nemo, Barnes said. “We could have opened the airport Sunday, instead of Monday. If the snow blower had worked.”
The airport also has two sweepers equipped with 22-foot brooms for clearing light snow.
“When we have a half-inch of snow, we have to do clearing operations. You can’t just wait for it to melt,” Barnes said. “Runways aren’t like streets where the volume of traffic will melt a dusting of snow. The only thing coming in here are aircraft and they need the runway clear of ice and snow.”
Barnes said that salt and sand cannot be applied to runways and taxiways because those materials are corrosive to aircraft, especially the f-14 fighters stationed at the 104th Tactical Fighter Wing and high-end corporate jets.
“We can use approved solutions to pre-treat runways and taxiway, but it’s very expensive,” he said. “It really hasn’t too bad of a winter, except for this last storm.”

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